Monday, February 19, 2018

The Girl Who Is a Gift

Does the world need another zombie movie? Well no, but I'm sure there's some heathen out there who thinks we're fine without another Step Up sequel. 

My point is simple: entertainment is rarely about need. Nobody thought we needed Toy Story 2 and 3, but isn't the world a better place with them? 

So hey, you want to give me a zombie movie in 2016? Make it good and I'll take it with joy.

Quick Plot: Preteen Melanie is bright and good-natured, a pleasant, creative individual who's first to raise her hand in class. She's the perfect teacher's pet save for one fatal flaw: her taste for human flesh.

Melanie, you see, is a second generation "hungry," aka evolved zombie who can function as a normal human being so long as she doesn't smell saliva, blood, or other bodily fluids.

In the near-apocalyptic future of The Girl With All the Gifts, the remaining uninfected are putting most of their resources into developing a cure for the virus (in this case, it's fungal-based and can spread through spores). Children like Melanie are treated like lab rats, much to the disapproval of teacher Helen (the always welcome Gemma Arterton) who disgusts her military escorts with her sympathy for the kids. Scientists like Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close! In a zombie movie!) see hungries as a disease to be cured by any means necessary.

When Melanie's facility becomes overrun with activated hungries, a ragtag team of survivors bands together to seek shelter. Helen, Dr. Caldwell, the bitter Sargent Parks, soldier Kieran, and Melanie wander a hungry-swarming world together with very different motives.

Based on a novel by Mike Carey (who also wrote the screenplay), The Girl With All the Gifts presents an intriguingly thought-out system for a zombie horror setup. The science is explained easily, and some of the more fungus-ish tics lend both believability and uniqueness to the setup.

That's all well and good, but a decent pitch for zombie attacks doesn't necessarily a great zombie flick make. Enter Sennia Nanua in her film debut as one of the most lovable characters to ever come out of the very well-trod genre. With her eager-to-please sunniness and wry sense of humor, Melanie is a genuine delight. Your heart immediately goes out to any kid strapped into a wheelchair on a daily basis and treated with such disgust as the soldiers do towards the hungries, but it's Melanie's intelligence and moxie that make her the kind of child you can build a film around.

The Girl With All the Gifts is directed by Colm McCarthy and damnit, it is a delight. I laughed. I jumped. And you know what else? I damn well cried. 

This is a joy.

High Points
There's a lot to admire throughout The Girl With All the Gifts, but its key strength is right there in its title. As Melanie, Nanua is incredibly charming and engaging. I can't remember the last time I rooted so hard for a character in a zombie flick.

Low Points
This is a movie that finds a way to make a cat's death charming. I have none.

Lessons Learned
Velcro is equally as impressive to zombie children of the future as it is and has been to a generation of living kids who couldn't tie their shoes

Don't play with anybody that looks dead

As Arrested Development should have taught us, always leave a note

Obviously, I adored this movie. It moves well, it has a winking sense of humor around its horror and a true affection for its characters. You can find it streaming on Amazon Prime. And you should. 

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