Once again we find ourselves in that oh-so-popular subgenre of the horror realm: zombies, where as I’ve noted before, it seems like there’s very little that could possibly be done that’s new, original, or diverting in any way from what’s already been done. Yet, the recent “Train to Busan” had somehow managed to break out on its own (at least a little bit) by confining the action to a rather unlikely location for such a film, thereby opening up some intriguing possibilities and delivering a mostly-satisfying experience. Now screenwriter/author Mike Carey and director Colm McCarthy have decided to try their hand at the well-worn subgenre with a zombie film of their own entitled “The Girl with All the Gifts.” Will they manage to find new ground (literal or otherwise) for the dead to tread, or will their efforts come up as lifeless as the creatures themselves?
Starting in a rather disorienting fashion, we are shown several children being kept prisoner by military personnel for some unknown reason. Among these children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who, like the rest of them, goes through the same routine every day of being strapped into a wheelchair, removed from her cell, and placed in a classroom where they are taught various subjects by Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). We soon learn that these are not ordinary children, and that they have actually been infected by a fungus that causes them to feast on living creatures. However, unlike the zombies that have practically taken over the world, these children still have the ability to think and behave normally some of the time. When the military compound they inhabit becomes overrun with the infected (“hungries” as they are called), a small band of survivors, including Helen, Melanie, Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), and Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine), are forced to go on the run, putting them in constant deadly danger as they desperately try to get to safety.
“The Girl with All the Gifts” is one of those films where the writer (Mike Carey) had the seed of a good idea, but just didn’t really know what to do with it. It starts off pretty well, giving us an intriguing situation that has the audience wondering why these children are considered to be such a danger to the people around them, and allowing us the time to get introduced to young Melanie, whom I suppose we’re supposed to sympathize with in this situation. It even sets up the prospect of a possible vaccine via a moral conundrum between Helen and Dr. Caldwell. However, before this can be dug into very far, they are interrupted by a zombie invasion that shifts the entire dynamic of the film.
From here, Carey seems to run out of ideas, setting his characters adrift in a world overrun by “hungries,” apparently at a total loss as to how to keep the story going in an engaging fashion. He tries to throw in a little action and suspense by having the crew go through a mall packed with the creatures, but shortly after, it’s as though he gives up all hope, choosing to have everyone bunker down for almost the entirety of the second act. This would be understandable if he wanted to use this time for character development or dialogue that would expand upon the narrative, something that would at least justify this long pause, but aside from a brief conversation explaining what the children are (which we are able to figure out much earlier on), there’s not a lot of substance to be found here.
At this point, the only hope for the film lies in what could potentially be a strong third act that has our group trying to evade the creatures and get to a new safe zone. The final act certainly ends up being a surprise, but unfortunately not in a pleasant way, for the most compelling climax that Carey could think of was to have the group go up against a group of feral “hungry” children. It’s just as silly to watch as it sounds. If you’re not too busy shaking your head at the entire prospect, then you might at least get a good laugh as the child leader faces off against Melanie with a baseball bat as everyone else just stares in wonderment.
It comes as no surprise to learn from the behind the scenes featurette included on the disc that the pitch for the film was merely for the first portion, for if Carey had included his entire outline, chances are this never would have gotten very far. As mentioned, compelling zombie films are really hard to do nowadays because just about everything has already been done. Carey had the start of something here, and this certainly could have been a fascinating project if he had expanded upon the originality offered up in those first few minutes, but sadly he decided to take the story in a clichéd, bland, and rather silly direction that has it lose all of the momentum built up early on. There was indeed a lot of potential here. It’s just a shame that it never gets tapped into.
“The Girl with All the Gifts” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.00:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. This is a rather drab and gritty film, but the picture remains perfectly sharp and clear throughout the entire presentation, even in the darkest of scenes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is likewise impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and various sound effects (mainly gunshots) in excellent quality. Overall, the film has been given a more-than-satisfying home release, ensuring a great experience.
Unwrap the Secret World of The Girl with All the Gifts (21 Minutes): A lengthy featurette that delves behind the scenes of the making of the film, featuring lots of footage shot on set and interviews with the cast and crew.
“The Girl with All the Gifts” starts off with quite a lot of potential in its first act, but unfortunately screenwriter Mike Carey takes the story in a clichéd, bland, and rather silly direction that results in an ultimately unsatisfying and quickly forgettable zombie outing. It’s all the more disappointing because there’s a fair amount of intriguing originality here, and although Carey wasn’t able to expand on it, he should at least be slightly commended for it. Perhaps, in the end, this would have turned out better as a short film, because as a feature, it just never comes together.