The Girl With All the Gifts (2016)

Starring: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Fisayo Akinade

Directed by: Colm McCarthy

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

So you'll be thrilled to hear that my summer cinema drought is over and I'm back... BACK... BACK!!!

But, never one to make life easy for myself, I decided to set myself a challenge: I enjoyed the book of The Girl With All the Gifts well enough but... well, tbh I couldn't even remember what happened at the end, so it can't have made that much of an impression. So why not approach the film after several glasses of wine at a work do and see if it, you know, keeps me awake...

Did it? Kind of...

Tweenaged Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is the star pupil at a very special school. Every day she attends class with her favourite teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) on whom she has a massive Chalet School-style girlie crush. She learns about Greek mythology and chemical elements; she writes adventure stories. Shame, then, that this bright, sensitive girl must, like all her classmates, be restrained in a wheelchair at all times under armed guard, imprisoned in the bowels of an MOD bunker.

Sennia Nanua as Melanie in The Girl With All the Gifts

This is because Melanie and her pals are second generation 'hungries': the children of people who have been attacked by a blood-born pathogen that turns them into ravenous, jaw-snapping, mindless zombies. Yet Melanie is far from mindless – could she and her kind hold the key to a cure?

Certainly that's what Glenn Close's ruthless, single-minded Dr Caldwell thinks. But before she can cut up Melanie and dissect her brain, the base falls to the zombie hordes and only a few can escape.

And so begins a rather lovely, touching tale as Melanie, Caldwell, Justineau and grumpy soldiers Parks (Paddy Considine) and Gallager (Fisayo Akinade) make for a new safe haven... if such a place exists. If Shaun of the Dead pioneered the rom zom com then The Girl With All the Gifts sparks a new genre mash up: the zombie coming of age road movie.

Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Fisayo Akinade in The Girl With All the Gifts

Like The Walking Dead (but set in a graveyard of Timpsons and Lidls – the classic British gothic horror setting is a delight), the movie takes its time at first, allowing us to invest in the characters before they meet their fates (yeah yeah, the slow burn start to their trip is the bit I fell asleep in...) But it's worth hanging on in there for an undead flick that's really trying to do something new with a very tired trope. Think you've seen it all before? Actually you haven't (even if you have seen Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, of which a few later scenes are somewhat reminiscent).

The casting is pretty much spot on – if you could pick any actress in the world to play the sweet but tough Miss Justineau you'd pick Gemma Arterton – and Glenn Close hasn't been this scenery-chewingly crazy since Fatal Attraction – Dr Frankenstein meets Cruella de Ville in a lab coat... But it's the luminous performance by young Nanua that really steals the show, as, both wise and naive, vulnerable and dangerous, Melanie teeters on the brink of adulthood and living death, neither child nor grown up, human nor zombie.

So yes, there was a moment of zizz, but otherwise I give The Girl With All the Gifts a Miss Justineau-approved B++ for effort and an A for its young star.

  • Share on Tumblr