Movie Review : The Girl with All the Gifts (2017)
* this review will contain heavy spoilers *
Netflix is weird. It's like having television again. My culture is utterly dependent on whatever material they acquire. I don't intentionally seek out post-apocalyptic movies but they find me through my streaming service anyway and they're all I ever seem to watch. I hadn't even heard of the adaptation of British author Mike Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts before it somehow landed on Netflix last month. And it's great. It's unconventionally great and also quite flawed, but it's a terrific and groundbreaking film for the genre. Please, take my statement with a grain of salt since post-apocalyptic movies are on the respirator, but The Girl with All the Gifts offers answers to moral conundrums that have been plaguing mainstream movies since forever.
The Girl with All the Gifts is the story of Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a seemingly smart and gifted young girl living in a bunker on an army base with a classroom full of other children. Military personal are terrified of them and bind them to wheelchairs whenever they move them around. These kids are "second generation zombies." Children of infected parents who ate their way out of the womb. I'm not even kidding. The world is prey to a viral zombie outbreak and the children, who are totally functional human beings aside from irrepressibly lusting for flesh, are kept on military bases and studied to find a vaccine. When Melanie's base gets run over by a large onslaught of zombies, the survivors have to rely on her to help them remain sage while they're working on a cure.
This movie eventually won me over, but it worked for it. The Girl with All the Gifts is anything but perfect. Some of its issues seem to have been budget-related, to be honest. For example, the military base Melanie and the other children are kept on is only protected by shoddy a chain-link fence. There are no steel barricades with snipers on the corners like in World War Z. Zombies have their work cut out for themselves. Some of the characters periodically lose their British accent too, which is weird. Paddy Considine, who is British, does an entire scene with an American accent. There seem to have been some confusion on the set.
I had issues with how the story was told at times too. Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is depicted as a peaceful educator with minimal military training until she gets an AR-15 shoved in her hands and sent on a dangerous room clearing mission so that the doctor (Glenn Close) can tell Melanie about her condition. Not subtle, guys. None of these flaws are major. Some of them are actually cute (the accent confusion), but it would've added up if it wasn't for The Girl with All the Gifts' majestic ending.
So, let's talk about that ending. Last chance to back out before the SPOILERS. Melanie commits genocide against the human race, which basically means she kills four people. I thought this was interesting because most movies would've went out of their way to preserve status quo here. The doctor, then dying from a sepsis, asks her to sacrifice herself in order to create a vaccine against the fungal infection that turns people into zombies. Melanie then makes the choice t condemn her and the remaining humans to extinction because she fails to see what's wrong with her condition. And so does the audience. Humans are self-centered dicks in this movie. They keep Melanie muzzled and handcuffed. They deny her humanity, call her (and the other kids) an abortion and don't hesitate to dissect children for science. If anything, they come off as arrogant and the architects of their own demise.
Another important thing about the ending of The Girl with All the Gifts is that it complies with a theme of return to nature that is all over the film. The children are not exactly zombies, but rather little savages who will eat any meat to survive. The zombie, when they actually die, transform into trees and create "virus spores", which Melanie sets fire to in order to condemn the human race. There's a not-so-obvious scene where she asserts her animal dominance over other others, etc. Mike Carey probably is responsible for this important narrative decision, but the movie deserves props for sticking with it. Too often, narratives stick to endings that make everybody happy. There's no dead kid coming out of nowhere the doctor can operate on to create a vaccine and save Melanie from becoming a savage. The savages win. Zombie apocalypse is finally given a logical, evolutionary purpose. What's not to love?
The Girl with All the Gifts is well-worth seeing. Sure, there are issued with it but I've enjoyed it much more than Train to Busan for example, which was sharp and ultracompetent but content to just not draw outside the lines. This little movie here takes chances and challenges conventional morals in mainstream movies. It has its stylish moment, but it definitely is more of a substance-over-style zombie movie. I cannot recommend this one enough. The Girl with All the Gifts will trigger ethical debates with any audience. It's that kind of firestarter. It's legally free to watch on your streaming devices, so don't waste any more time.