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Melanie (Sennia Nanua) in “The Girl with All the Gifts”. (Dean Rogers and Cathay-Feris Films)

Review: 'The Girl with All the Gifts' is a thinking man's zombie film

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 111 minutes (~2 hours)

‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is a zombie apocalypse film in a world where humanity has been reduced to small, isolated colonies, experimenting on sentient child zombies. When one of the test subjects might be the key to a cure to the zombie outbreak, a small group must escort the child to safety. 

It stars Gemma Arteron (Helen Justineau), Sennia Nanua (Melanie), Glenn Close (Dr Caroline Caldwell), Paddy Considine (Sergeant Eddie Parks), Anamaria Marinca (Dr Selkirk), Dominique Tipper (Devani), and Fisayo Akinade (Private Kieran Gallagher). It is rated NC-16.

The zombie girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) in 'The Girl with All the Gifts’ might not seem like a plausible threat (what could a little zombie girl do) but the film does an excellent job of humanising her while exposing us to her ferocity, creating a duality in how we see her. Don’t be fooled by the seeming talkiness of the trailers — this is a true zombie film, albeit a thinking man’s zombie film.

Highlights

Sennia Nanua’s nuanced performance

In an impressive display of dramaturgy, Sennia Nanua imbues Melanie with internal conflict that is neither over the top nor over-explained. The warring impulses between her zombie desires and human emotions is both heartwarming and terrifying to see. It’s not as straightforward as hoping that her humanity triumphs over her infection, because as the film reveals, that are aspects to her zombie-ness that also garner our empathy.

A story of morality and survival

The film also starts out with obvious antagonists and protagonists, making it seem like a clear cut battle between good and evil. However, it soon transitions into a story about survival, and not in the traditional fashion either. It’s a surprising twist that changes the conflict of ethics into one about the species, making us re-examine preceding events with a different lens.

Surprisingly creepy scenes

Melanie can be rather frightening when circumstances call for it, but the most horrifying part is how close the protagonists get to the zombies. The events of the film force the characters to get up and close personal with the zombies in a non-combat way, resulting in nerve-wracking scenes that don’t involve beating up zombies.

Letdowns

Flat supporting characters

Besides Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), the rest of the characters lack dimension. They have one motivation, one characteristic, and perform the same schtick throughout the film. While Melanie and Dr Caldwell’s interactions provide the insightful elements, the other characters are just there for plot functions rather than good storytelling. You don’t really care about their fate.

Sustainability of the ending doesn’t make sense

While the sequence of events that leads to the climax is believable and logical, the situation which the characters find themselves in at the end of the film isn’t. The problem is that it’s impossible for them to continue for long with the arrangement that ensues in the ending, and before the film ends you can see how it will definitely end in disaster.

'The Girl with All the Gifts’ is one zombie film that’s genuinely insightful and thought-provoking, rather than just claiming to be so.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you like zombie films.

Score: 3.5/5

'The Girl with All the Gifts’ opens in cinemas:
- 29 September 2016 (Singapore)
- 17 November 2016 (Malaysia)
- 26 October 2016 (Philippines)


Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at marcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.