The Girl With All the Gifts Review: The Unfounded Zombie Evolution

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In 2017, how do you make a zombie film feel fresh? The Girl With All the Gifts doesn’t provide much guidance in that, sadly. This darker than dark tale of the rabid apocalypse does what it can to change the formula, making a lead character out of a young human/zombie hybrid. But Melanie (Sennia Nanua) never quite resonates, robbing this relatively well made film of the emotional core it so desperately needs.

We follow Melanie as she’s being held at a military facility and going to school alongside a group of other human/zombie hybrids, all of whom are strapped into wheelchairs so that, when their hunger awakens, they won’t charge their teacher, Helen (Gemma Arterton). The film tries to form a parental bond between Helen and Melanie, but M.R. Carey’s cold script, based on his own novel, never allows the characters to come into their own as human beings. That’s true of the cast at large as well, the most successful attempt belonging to Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close, committed but unable to draw out emotion), a scientist searching for a cure through Melanie.

Where director Colm McCarthy is most successful is executing tense scenarios for the main characters to navigate hordes of zombies. Any zombie film can impress with well-made-up extras running toward something, but The Girl With All the Gifts sports a few sequences where the extras stay quiet and the group has to tip-toe around them so as to not wake them up. This technique has of course been used before, but the tension in these scenes is the focus of most of the horror, rather than the other way around with lots of running and snarling. It makes for a better overall film than, say, World War Z.

The ending is also a strong suit, with the script finding a way to service Melanie without relying on cliches and making a radical but at least partially poignant point. But other than that, The Girl With All the Gifts does little to re-invent the zombie genre. It’s a mostly fine little horror film that’s best when focusing on tension rather than it’s bland characters. While it’s surely better to encourage filmmakers in the horror genre to explore characters at all, this one sadly just comes up short. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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