“It’s bit of a twist on a classic,” the popular saying goes. It roughly translates to, “It’s trying to squeeze more money out of something that’s been done to death by adding something new”. Nevertheless, when done correctly it deserves every bit green it squeezes out because the classics become classics for a good reason: because we love them. So if someone is able to give us something we love but just different and original enough to avoid feeling repetitive, then we should welcome them with open arms and wallets. That’s certainly those behind The Girl with All the Gifts were hoping as it arrives merely 2 years after its zombie source novel was published. Unfortunately, they’ve delivered something that’s less of a twist on a classic and more flop over it.
Mankind has been ravaged by a fast acting infection turning people into possessed cannibals. At an English military research facility Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glen Close – Air Force One, Guardians of the Galaxy) believes that an infected but still intelligent girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua – film debut), could be the key to a cure, but she be able to use it before it’s too late.
So in the more commonly known vein to 28 Days Later, this is “not-zombie” setup but a fast-acting infection triggered upon fluid exchange (a fungal infection no less.... like Athlete’s Foot!). Like said Danny Boyle affair, this boils down to sprinter zombies rather than the classical Romero shufflers..... Let’s pause while the traditionalists spit out their Mountain Dew over that.....okay, we’re good. Having such energetic masses does allow for fast-paced action and that delivers the film’s beat sequence by far as the military compound is overrun at the end of the first act. It’s a wonderfully chaotic affair as bullets and bodies strafe across the camera in every direction while all hell is breaking loose. Throughout the rest of the film, several smaller sequences also entertain if not quite matching the military base for scale. However, not everything about our “infected” friends works on screen. In fact, as the film progresses, consistency gets pushed further and further into the corner. Later, we’re pledged a static immobile state when the “Hungry” can sense no nearby humans only to snap out of it like a Tumblr feminist when triggered. That’s fine but how and when such triggering occurs turns into little more than plot required roulette. A gunshot is fired in the close proximity of 100 off infected for only one random infected in the middle to be triggered by the sound with the rest completely unaffected. In fact, it reaches the stage, where despite mass numbers, they’re deliberately attack one after the other like the enemies in a poorly-made video game. It throws all credibility into the meat grinder and any sense of peril vanishes like your bank balance a week after pay day. It’s a real disappointment.
Finally, on the not-zombie front, there’s an interesting if ultimately badly executed idea carried over from M.R. Carey’s source novel in the final act. That is encountering a group/tribe of feral hybrid infected kids like Melanie. This could have been excellent but it turns into a school play adaption of Congo. It doesn’t help that the feral kids themselves look terrible, like the kids from Mad Max 3 watched Labyrinth on repeat until they thought they were goblins. It really takes the enjoyment out of the final act as the film seems to have no idea what it’s trying be.
The settings of the film are definitely positive. The underground military facility of the opening act impresses with a scale and efficiency of its operation as experiment subjects are transferred from cells to classroom in heavily restrained wheelchairs. It does well to paint a bigger picture of Melanie’s character, which is curious innocence melded with a vicious killer. Then after a brief woodland transition, we’re presented with a post-apocalyptic London that looks like nobody cleaned up after the 2011 riots (For American readers, Marks and Spencer is like Whole Foods merged with a clothing outlet store). A lot of the imagery is simple and effective as the many urban areas are now adorned with greenery similar that of I Am Legend.
The biggest head shot for the film is the story. It starts out with purpose and intent that slowly dwindles into nothing throughout the second half. For large amounts of the film, things feel very directionless before building to an ending that is at best divisive and to some will render the entire film as being pointless. This isn’t helped by being almost devoid of subplots, leaving us just with the main idea of survival. There are some themes of the group, especially Paddy Constantine’s (Child 44, Macbeth) Sergeant Parks slowly trusting Melanie more, to align with her former teacher Gemma Arterton’s (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans) Helen, but that’s about it. The film is crying out for some more inter-workings between its main characters to hold our interest more effectively.
Newcomer Sennia Nanua does a decent enough job with Melanie. At times, she’s a little annoying with her monotone dialogue but she does present the innocence of her character rather well. The likes of Close, Constantine and Arterton are certainly not at their best due to the available material but produce passable performances. Close, in particular, gets some good moments defending the sacrifices of her research for the greater good.
There have been some great British zombie films over the last decade but sadly this is not one of them. It has the potential to be great but the combination of a low budget (just £4m) and a TV director perhaps not ready for his film debut (Colm McCarthy – Peaky Blinders) have produced some underwhelming results that at times has an unhealthy obsession with chattering teeth. Sadly, this girl isn’t the gift she’d like to be.