Humanity ought to just give up the ghost and make way for zombies to rule the Earth in our place. It is what we deserve for being so rapacious and exploitative, whereas zombies are all about sensitivity and sustainable growth. Not according to any zombie film we’ve ever seen, yet those same films insist the shuffling hordes will be better stewards of the planet. That is even true of the zombie movies based on YA-crossover novels. In this case, it also happens to be rated R. Regardless, humanity is up the creek, but Melanie, a second-generation “hungry” probably has the right stuff to survive in Colm McCarthy’s The Girl with All the Gifts (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
In this case, Melanie really is a girl, a bright ten-year-old who carries the zombie-turning fungal infection. Since she was infected in-utero, she can still conduct herself in a rational manner, as long as she does not get a good whiff of human flesh. She and two or three dozen of her fellow hybrids are serving as research guinea pigs in a secret military base outside London. Helen Justineau is probably the only sympathetic adult figure the kids-with-the-gift know. Aside from her, nobody on staff really takes her daily lessons seriously, but it provides a bonding catalyst for Justineau and the children, especially Melanie. Therefore, when the hungries over run the base, it is Melanie who she will save.
Rather awkwardly, Justineau and Melanie fall in with the hardnosed hungry-hating Sgt. Eddie Parks and the icily self-assured Dr. Caroline Caldwell, who was one zombie attack away from vivisecting Melanie for the sake of a cure. Together, they will try to make it to the Beacon base, but all the hungries in their way make it hard going.
We have been down the humanized zombie road before, most notably with Sabu’s Miss Zombie, but also with Maggie, In the Flesh, and Wyrmwood, but at least Gifts starts promisingly. With the help of aerial drone photography of Chernobyl-decimated Pripyat, McCarthy creates an eerie vision of post-zombie apocalypse London. Melanie also seems to engage with her human captors in mature, interesting ways, particularly her intellectually curious exchanges with Dr. Caldwell. Unfortunately, nearly everyone becomes a zombie movie cliché is the third act, including Melanie herself. Events and decisions that are not well-founded by the preceding scenes just seem to happen in order to bring the film to a ridiculously unsatisfying conclusion.
Sennia Nanua is pretty impressive as Melanie, even when she is forced to wear that protective ski mask (lucky they made that model out of transparent plastic). Glenn Close chews the scenery like a pro and Paddy Considine broods like nobody’s business as crusty Sgt. Parks. Gemma Arterton looks uncomfortable playing Justineau, but she manages to get by. Unfortunately, the ragamuffin hungry-hybrids who shows up later are far more laughable than feral or fierce.