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Review: The Girl With All the Gifts – “Incredibly complex and daring”

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Another zombie movie, I hear you cry. Well, not exactly. There are zombies – and plenty of them – never fear. There are chases and bloodshed and ‘conversions’. But the marvellous thing about The Girl With All the Gifts is the very human story running through it.

Because there is a new breed of zombies and, unlike their predecessors, these ones are able to learn and grow and develop, just so long as we can keep their urges in check. This is why we meet these child zombies locked away in a base, being taught by Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and watched over by Paddy Considine’s Sgt. Eddie Parks. Of course, they are not just being observed, they are also being studied. Enter the chillingly clinical Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close). She’s looking to save the human race, and she believes studying the brains of these child zombies will show her the way.

There is a slight absence in backstory with our central characters, but this never presents any issues because the cast are all brilliant at saying so much without uttering a word. The standout performance (though they’re all pretty spectacular!) has to be the incomparable Glenn Close, who makes a pretty unlikeable character entirely likeable – or at the very least, understandable. You fully appreciate the pain, the desperation and the frustration of what they’re all trying to do without needing to have it spelled out. Despite the well-known cast members – Close, Arterton and Considine – there is one new face here who pulls off something that is close to impossible. Sennia Nanua is a revelation as Melanie, the main child zombie who brings them all together, whether they want to be or not.

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Of course, it’s not just about the people, or the zombies. This is a story about a new world. The world in which these people live is an oddly beautiful post-apocalyptic one. Though the grim horror of this post-event world is clear to see, there is a contrasting beauty that seems to make it all the more inviting. As the human race has diminished, nature has been left to flourish – and flourish it has. In amongst the abandoned, brown, broken buildings, vivid green trees stand tall and proud.

The entire film is an assault on the senses. You feel every part, whether it is the loud and impactful score (or the silence that breaks it up), the visual contrasts, or the tension of a particular scene. The balance of tension, shocks and adrenaline is hugely important, the calm before the storm mixing seamlessly with the storm itself.

Director Colm McCarthy and writer Mike Carey have created something with extraordinary vision here. It’s dark and tense, as all great apocalyptic/zombie stories should be, but it’s also incredibly complex and daring, and smart enough to trust that its audience will figure things out for themselves. Much like Jojo Moyes and Gillian Flynn, this is another great example of a novelist who understands the medium of film.

4-out-of-5

The Girl With All The Gifts is out on Friday 23 September 2016.

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