The Girl With All the Gifts (2016): Full Movie Review, Plot Summary, and Where to Watch Online

I wanted to see The Girl With All The Gifts earlier but I never got the chance to, I know the zombie genre is oversaturated as hell at this point but this looked to do something different with the material. Having finally seen it, I can admit that there’s something unique about this film but it lets itself down with some rather confusing decisions.

Set nearly a decade after a fungal infection has devastated the British mainland, turning all infected humans into ravenous beasts known as ‘Hungries’, the film opens on an army base where a second generation of infected children – those infected from inside the womb – are being kept due to their ability to keep their intelligence and personality but become dangerous at the sight and smell of human flesh. One such girl is Melanie, a very intelligent young girl who manages to control herself better than her classmates but can still lose herself, much to the dismay of her teacher Helen Justineau who has grown to care for Melanie and see her more than just a monster.

The base’s resident doctor Caroline Caldwell is experimenting on the children to try and find a vaccine and believes that Melanie is the key to finding it but before she can perform an operation the base is attacked by the Hungries forcing Caldwell, Helen, and Melanie to escape with soldiers Kieran and Sergeant Parks who has a severe dislike of Melanie due to her infection. The group travels towards London in the hopes of connecting with Beacon, a larger military base, only to find that the city is filled with dormant Hungries and unchecked vegetation. As they push deeper into the city, Melanie starts to look at the new world around her and questions if things need to go back to how they were before.

For the most part, this is a strong story, it’s more character-driven than a lot of other zombie features with Melanie being the focal point between the living and the dead which offers a unique insight into the apocalypse. Things do fall apart slightly in the third act, and the decisions that the characters make start becoming more and more difficult to understand, ranging from minor choices to outright major plot points, it doesn’t ruin the film but it does sully an otherwise decent story.

This also applies to the characters themselves because for the first half, 2/3rds of the film they’re all mostly well-rounded and interesting, Kieran gets sidelined a bit for wearing the film’s requisite red-shirt but he’s not a wholly unlikeable guy. Paddy Considine as Parks better portrays the military mindset in his sheer hatred of Melanie and the other Hungries around him, he’s a good counterpoint to Helen because while his caution around the Hungries is well warranted you can tell there’s something a little more personal with him, allowing the film to keep the tension built within the group. Considine’s able to toe the line between asshole and villain, never straying too far into one extreme or the other, he might be cold but you know where he’s coming from and it makes for a more interesting character that doesn’t need to be the antagonist.

Gemma Arterton plays Helen and I’ll state outright, I think she’s one of the weaker characters of the story. I completely understand her purpose, she’s a mothering figure to Melanie and showcases the humanity that Melanie took to heart but she felt too passive in the actual story. Maybe that’s unfair, I think overall she and Parks had a nice dichotomy going on where Helen was too trusting of the children to the point of forgetting they were infected and monstrous, the difference being that Parks isn’t as big a character as Helen and yet she doesn’t seem to have the same level of development. I’m not taking anything away from Arterton, she’s charismatic and kind and sells the softer edge that is admittedly lacking in a lot of zombie media, but I don’t think the film was able to translate her character enough to work.

By contrast, Glenn Close as Caldwell was a more interesting character and serves as the best counterpoint to Melanie as well as being the middle ground between Parks and Helen. Part of what makes her so interesting is that you can’t fully tell where her motivations lie, she recognizes and appreciates Melanie’s intelligence but at the same time she knows that to make the vaccine she’ll have to cut her open so avoids getting personally attached so what you’re left with is a friendly performance but one that’s cold, you get the feeling that something’s not quite right with Caldwell but you’re not sure what. Close is pretty damn great in the role and manages to play the hidden villain with surprising ease, I’d never expect to see her in a zombie movie and yet here she is.

Rounding out the cast is newcomer Sennia Nanua as Melanie and she owns this film, there’s a wonderful dichotomy to the character that even seasoned actors would struggle to pull off, and yet Nanau nails it, for the most part, she’s a bright, cheerful and intelligent young girl who you can’t help but root for simply for how… normal she is, when everyone around her is frightened or angry having this source of normality is refreshing. Of course, that’s offset by the moments where she’s not normal when the bloodlust overtakes her and she turns ravenous, I think the only child I’ve seen better in the animalistic performance is Laura from Logan. In a way you end up like Helen, you care so much for Melanie that you almost forget about her being able to tear you apart with her teeth, towards the end of the film you start to wonder which side is more prominent, particularly following a scene where she fucking Negan’s someone but still appears to talk normally. There are a lot more layers to this role than I expected from a child character but Nanua hits them all.

The film is directed by Colm McCarthy, a prominent TV director which could’ve been a bad move but this is very low-key so he’s not out of his element and most of my issues with it stem from the script-writer who is also the writer of the novel the film is based on, M.R. Carey. It’s not even that it’s bad it’s just strange the choices that are made, especially by Melanie and her reaction to what she’s done. To the film’s credit, they give a reason why she does what she does but even that feels a little pulled from nowhere, like I said the final act doesn’t ruin the film it just takes away from the rest of it.

Thankfully the rest of it is quite well done, as oversaturated as the zombie genre is it’s nice to see that there’s still new blood left to draw from it. For starters, the film is set several years after the outbreak so things have calmed and even evolved towards something new, the latter half of the film bringing in a feral type of enemy that few zombie films are willing to touch upon. This also means that we get scenes littered with the dead because there’s no living left in the cities but that doesn’t mean what you think it means, during the film’s stand-out moment the group has to travel through a herd of Hungries using nothing but some scent-blocking gel and complete silence. It’s a scene I’m surprised not more zombie films have done, not using full-on danger but rather the threat of danger to push the scene forward, it’s a lot more frightening just waiting for something to go wrong than when it inevitably does, how the group manage to get out of it.

The Girl With All The Gifts doesn’t reinvent the zombie genre but it finds a solid place within it, it’s a clever story that examines humanity through the eyes of an infected little girl and the people around her, Considine, Close, and Arterton play their roles well to shape the world around Melanie while Nanua herself steals the film out from under them and McCarthy delivers a low-key apocalypse that still manages to shock and chill with the best of them. The ending might take away from the rest of the film but that first 90% is still strong enough to stand on its own merits.

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