I was never a big fan of zombie movies beyond Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I was even initially reluctant to watch THE WALKING DEAD because I couldn’t see how a series just about zombies would be interesting. Then I watched it and realized it’s mostly a post-apocalyptic show with some zombies — sorry, Walkers — occasionally wandering through. Most zombie films follow the same formula, with the main difference being whether they have fast zombies or slow ones.
Colm McCarthy’s film THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, based on Mike Carey’s novel and screenplay, diverts from the formula. It follows Melanie, played brilliantly by Dominique Tipper, a young girl who appears to be a zombie/human hybrid and part of a military experimental program. By exploring why Melanie is different from the rest of the undead, called Hungries, the film suggests there may be some final stage of the apocalypse yet to be played out.
The film starts with Melanie in her dark cell willingly letting herself be strapped into a chair and taken to a classroom with other secured kids. Melanie is clearly different. She smiles at and is friendly with the armed soldiers who clearly are terrified of her. She is able to answer complex chemistry questions and clearly has a deep affection for one of the teachers, Helen Justineau (Gemma Atherton). Justineau struggles with her need to be professionally distant and her genuine caring for the children, especially Melanie. Melanie’s acceptance of this very bizarre arrangement is baffling until you realize these children have been in this bunker since birth. Justineau is the closest thing Melanie has to a mother, and she idolizes her. This touching and bizarre relationship is the core of the movie.
However, Melanie is not normal despite her intelligence and pleasant personality. She reverts to a teeth-gnashing monster when anyone gets close enough for her to smell. When the zombie horde beyond the gates breaks in and overruns the base, Melanie escapes with Justineau, Program Director Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), and Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine) The adults struggle with wanting to protect Melanie and fearing her at the same time. They quickly realize, as they venture beyond the safety of the base, that they need her to navigate the new world.
The look of post-apocalyptic London is similar to I AM LEGEND, with trees and greenery overgrowing buildings and streets. And when the group does have to fight their way through a horde, the movie feels like a video game. Melanie remains the most interesting aspect as she explores the outside world for the first time and comes to grips with her true nature. She will never be accepted by the humans, who can’t decide if she isn’t merely a puppet of the fungus invading her brain, mimicking humanity; and she is not like the zombie horde. She is something new.
Melanie finds a group of feral hybrid children and it is clear she is the way forward into the future. She is also Pandora, inadvertently unleashing the next stage to the end of humanity, like in Justineau’s story. She is Eve, the catalyst of destruction and the carrier of the future.