Fantastic Fest Review: ‘THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS’ ushers in a new age for zombie films

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS | 115 min | R
Director: Colm McCarthy
Cast: Sennia NanuaGemma ArtertonPaddy Considine and Glenn Close

There’s no denying it: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is the next great zombie movie.

This UK film is based on a YA book of the same name by Mike Carey, who also penned the screenplay and hand a hand in Netflix’s PEAKY BLINDERS. Carey takes a completely played out genre and turns the world of the zombies into something poetic and original.

In the film, we are introduced to an underground bunker of sorts in England. There are soldiers with guns, scientists conducting experiments and seemingly normal children bound to wheelchairs with handcuffs and militarized straps. But there is one girl with a inviting smile and completely adorable British accent named Melanie (Sennia Nanua) who catches the attention of the facility’s guards, scientists and teachers — especially one teacher by the name of Helen (Gemma Arterton).

There are elements we have seen before in zombie films, yet director Colm McCarthy (OUTCAST) never allows the audience to become too comfortable. He introduces a new look to England we haven’t seen, along with a contained story that has an imminent fear of menace and surprisingly effective emotional arc.

When their bunker comes under siege, the crusty Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine), Helen, Melanie and mad scientist Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) escape to seek a cure. And while this is the jumping off point for many zombified horror flicks, but the film’s originality is in spades.

Paddy Considine (top) and Sennia Nannua (bottom) in THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

Paddy Considine (top) and Sennia Nannua star in THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS. Courtesy of (insert).

Relative newcomer Nanua carries the film with complete easel. She has a comfort level working toe-to-toe with seasoned professionals like it’s nothing. Nanua portrays the mysterious Melanie with an affable smile and naivety that’s coupled with a precocious child that never truly lets the adults know what she may be thinking. One minute Melanie is screaming with glee over being given a walkie-talkie; the next, slyly giving Sgt. Parks strategy tips.

She works particularly well in her many scenes, particularly when she spars with Close (who hasn’t taken on a role like this in her career).

Close knows how potentially dangerous Dr. Caldwell can be. Her character takes radical approaches to curing the zombie virus. Her hope is to, of course, wipe out the “hungries,” so the humans can reclaim their world. But screenwriter Carey asks a bigger question than most films of the genre: What if humans are meant to be extinct? It’s safe to say not many horror films will try to ask these questions.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a action-horror knock-out, competing for the most exciting film of the year. This is a film that never tries to candy coat the hard truths it uncovers — This is the kind of film that leaves you haunted and euphoric.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is currently being released in the UK. No US release date slated yet.

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