In 2015, M.R. Carey published the post-apocalyptic zombie novel The Girl with All the Gifts. The novel was an impressive story about a group of children held at a military base where soldiers feared them and kept guns leveled on them while a teacher taught them various subjects while the kids were bound to wheelchairs. Soon, the reader discovers that they are in fact second-generation zombies, born to zombie infected parents, but able to still use their brains and learn. However, when they smell human flesh, they go rabid and try to eat.
The focus of the story is a young girl named Melanie, also known as Number One, a blonde, white girl who is very intelligent. She also looks at her teacher, a black woman named Helen, as a Goddess and has disdain for the often-cruel Sergeant Eddie Parks. The story is very inventive and puts a spin on the zombie tale that has never been seen before.
In 2016, the novel was turned into a movie and directed by British television director Colm McCarthy, with a script by M.R. Carey himself. For those who don’t know, Carey is Mike Carey, a comic book writer who has penned the entire Sandman spin-off series Lucifer and also worked on Hellblazer, the John Constantine comics, for over three years. The guy is the goods, The Girl with All the Gifts was a fantastic novel, and the film based on the book is one of the most original zombie movies to hit in years.
Carey made some cosmetic changes in the novel. Instead of a white little girl and a black teacher, Carey reversed the roles. Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) played Helen while newcomer Sennia Nanua played the young zombie girl. Rounding out the main cast is Paddy Considine (one of the Andy’s in Hot Fuzz) as Sergeant Parks and the iconic Glenn Close as Dr. Caldwell, a woman who is dissecting the young children in the hopes of finding a cure.
The movie starts off the exact same as the book, with Melanie taken to her teacher’s classroom and taking part in class. Just like the book, we don’t learn these are zombie children until Sergeant Parks teaches Helen a lesson in the danger they pose. However, the movie then takes the necessary measure of speeding up the zombie attack on the base and sending Melanie, Helen, Sergeant Parks, Pvt. Kieran Gallagher, and Dr. Caldwell out into the world of zombies to try to find a safe spot.
The movie then moves quickly through the story, with fantastic use of CGI, a perfect touch of actual horror makeup design, and some great inventive zombie action. There are changes to the rules applied to zombies in this movie – both the regular zombies and the very smart second generation zombies. The film gives us a look at the second generation zombies who have been taken care of as well as some Lord of the Flies inspired second generation zombies who had no education and lived through survival rules.
It the movie fails anywhere, it is through the introduction of the wild children. They are scary but the movie kind of goes off the rails a bit when they are introduced and it is a bit out of place in this particular movie. It isn’t that they are bad characters, it is just they feel like they wandered in from a different film. There are also things that are done – specifically by Melanie – that was never explained when it comes to how she developed certain fighting skills.
For those who love the book, the ending is also slightly altered and the movie stretches out a bit later than the book and changes which character makes the ultimate move for victory. With that said, it is a perfect choice for the movie. What works in a book is not always what works best in a film, and the way the film’s conflict ended was perfect.
I do want to touch on the very final scene in the movie.
Without going into the ending too much, I had some serious questions about the logistics of that scene – both involving who was in it and how a certain character was even surviving this moment. However, while those questions won’t leave my head, I can’t help but smile at the moral questions that arise from that final scene – something all horror movies should strive for.
The Girl with All the Gifts is a welcome reprieve from zombie movies that only care about torture porn. This is a smart story, from a great writer, that was adapted well for the big screen. It never got a wide release in the United States, but The Girl with All the Gifts is a film any horror film lover should seek out.