Ever since George Romero made “Night of the Living Dead” there have been films about zombies, but few manage to be worth watching. Directors have tried applying comedy (“Shaun of the Dead”) and even Jane Austen (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) to the theme, but most efforts plod along as ineptly as the zombies themselves. The Girl With All the Gifts takes a new bite at the
brain cherry. Set in England, the zombie apocalypse has already happened due to a mysterious fungal plague, with the remaining humans holding out in military bases that face increasing pressure from the undead hordes. Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) is the research director of a facility searching for a vaccine/cure. It transpires that some pregnant women affected having given birth (in a way) to seemingly normal children who are nonetheless zombies, and behave as such when hungry and scenting flesh. Otherwise they are lucid and behave normally, which gives hope to Dr Caldwell that something in their bodies may lead to a vaccine.
The film opens in chilling manner a school of such zombie children, being taught by Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) but under close guard from the military. The star pupil, and the real star of the film, is a young girl Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who forms a particular bond with Miss Justineau. When things go awry, the main characters and some soldiers are forced to embark on a dangerous journey through the ravaged English countryside.
The movie works partly because of taut direction, a genuine sense of menace, and above all a remarkable performance from child actor Sennia Nanua, who is on screen in practically every frame, and is a natural. There is just enough humour for relief from the suspense, and although the ending may not satisfy everyone, you never want to take your eyes off the screen. This is a clever, dare I say brainy, take on the genre, and should not be missed.