Teacher’s Pet (Film Review: “The Girl with All the Gifts”)

With the passing this week of George A. Romero, whose seminal 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead literally created the cinematic zombie genre, here’s a fitting homage: a film that offers a twist on the familiar trope, set a short hop away in a dystopian future where mankind is outnumbered and the reason is chillingly familiar.

 

 

SnapShot Plot

Just when you think the world couldn’t possibly need one more film about flesh-eating ghouls, The Girl with All the Gifts takes a bite out of the genre with a new twist that’s as compelling as it is disturbing. This British horror movie is so bold and unflinching, so (necessarily) graphic and shocking that it deserves to be seen for the sheer strength of it’s film-making, even if you’re not a fan of the genre (as I confess I am not.) And although it’s not really character-driven, it drew in top-notch talent including a formidable Glenn Close, the wonderful Paddy Considine, an endearingly tender Gemma Arterton, and the debut of an impressive newcomer, Sennia Nanua whose portrayal of the young main character is quite impressive.

Nanua plays Melanie, a bright, precocious, friendly pre-adolescent who, along with other children her age, lives as a shackled prisoner in a military bunker headed by Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), a crusty research pathologist whose interest in her is purely clinical. Turns out Melanie and the other kids are second-generation ‘hungries’ (as they’re referred to), children born from zombie mothers but don’t manifest as shuffling, drooling ghouls unless they’re triggered by the scent of living human flesh. Dr. Caldwell, in the name of saving humanity, is more than willing to sacrifice the children so that she can dissect their brains in order to find a cure for the rampant fungal infection sweeping the planet and transforming humans into ‘hungries’. Standing in her way is Ms. Justineau, Melanie’s kind-hearted teacher (yes, they have a classroom . . . leave it to the Brits!) who can’t see the child as anything less than fully human, although when she makes the mistake of innocently caressing her one day, a brutal and frightening demonstration of the childrens’ true nature proves her wrong. When all hell breaks out, it’s up to this small group of humans, with Melanie as their guide and shield, to navigate their way through a forbidding landscape of dangerous hungries, with the odds increasingly against their favor.

 

“Would you like a cat?”

“I’ve already had one…”

 

Parting Shot

The screenplay for The Girl with All the Gifts was written by Mike Carey, based on his novel of the same name and directed by Colm McCarthy. It’s a white knuckle ride from start to finish, in a believably tactile world that at once seems remote and eerily familiar. The action is unflinching and the suspense is almost unbearable, with occasional comic relief that is simultaneously gruesome too (I’ll just mention the kitty cat once.) But in the end, the utter reality for mankind and for one of the characters couldn’t be more ironic. And of course, the entire film begs the question regarding the true essence of humanity, beyond the brain and into the soul.

The Girl with All the Gifts is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTUUoQ3FRLE

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