The Girl With All the Gifts—the 2016 British film based off of the novel of the same name by M.R. Carey—hit Netflix for streaming on April 1st.
Besides being one of the most unique and compelling zombie movies out there, the themes of this film are especially relevant in our current global crisis.
So, while the coronavirus pandemic has us sheltered in place for public safety, there’s no better way to pass the long days than to throw this sci-fi movie up on your TV or computer screen. The Girl With All the Gifts reflects issues in our current society, but the intricate fantasy elements provide escapism and keep it from hitting too close to home.
The Colm McCarthy-directed film is set in the near future, with a dystopian society rising in the wake of a devastating fungal disease. Humanity has been ravaged by the illness, as those infected turn into “hungries”—agile yet mindless flesh-eaters.
However, a small group of children from a second generation of the hungries are capable of cognitive reasoning and learning. These children, held captive by the military and experimented on by Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close), may be humanity’s last chance for survival.
Among these children is the incredible young girl Melanie (Sennia Nanua). The bright and brave child is experimented on in the search for a cure, but throughout her imprisonment, she has grown close to the woman on the base responsible for the education and study of the children, Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). When the army base is infiltrated by a group of feral hungries, Melanie, Helen, and Caroline find themselves in a group of survivors desperate to find hope.
With plenty of chilling visuals and nuanced villainy, The Girl With All the Gifts is definitely horror, but it actually has positive and optimistic takeaways—a feat which is especially surprising considering the bleakness of most zombie media. While avoiding any spoilers, the backbone of this film is an unwavering sense of hope, as unconventional as it may be.
For starters, the concept of a second-generation of zombies is as optimistic as it is refreshing. This apocalyptic evolution features a world which doesn't go back to “normal” after a catastrophic event—a world which, perhaps, shouldn’t revert to the status quo.
The Girl With All the Gifts takes the grotesque and zombified aftermath of a fungal plague and asserts that humanity will always find a way back on its feet. Maybe intelligent flesh-craving children aren’t the beacon of light everyone in this near-future is hoping for, but who’s to say what the third and fourth generations will bring?
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The Girl With all the Gifts also addresses a sensible and realistic approach to societal devastation. While the gritty, gung-ho, guns-a-blazing approach to zombies in The Walking Dead or Zombieland might make for action-packed thrillers, in The Girl With All the Gifts the dedication to scientific research and the search for a cure put a little more heart into the problem-solving.
Some tough choices and morally gray sacrifices stand in the way of scientific salvation, but it’s inspiring to see a zombie movie that doesn’t write the infected off as inherently expendable.
However, one aspect of traditional zombie media remains the same in The Girl With All the Gifts: the trope of a “found family” of survivors. Themes of community-building are more important than ever today, and this film utilizes the trope to its full potential.
The rag-tag collection of the “hungry” Melanie and the non-infected others from the army base carries a connotation of unity, moving a side-step beyond a black and white “us against them” mentality. And while the film may not unfold as viewers expect, the characters carry a sense of compassion and collaboration that never fully disintegrates amidst tragedy.
As the coronavirus continues to cause rippling hardships across the globe, these concepts of compassion, community, and hope are important to keep alive. Maybe real life will never get as bleak as the horror stories that unravel across screens and pages, but people are still struggling physically, financially, and emotionally.
The Girl With All the Gifts reminds viewers we should never give up on the people that need our help, and we should strive for a future which best serves all of humanity. And while we wait for brighter days to come, at least we have distraction and catharsis in the form of great movies like this.
Check out the trailer for The Girl With All The Gifts below, then start streaming on Netflix!
Featured image of "The Girl With All the Gifts" via BFI Film Fund