One of the most fascinating sci-fi horror novels of 2014 was The girl with all the gifts, Mr. Carey’s story about a girl who goes to a very special school where every student receives a classical education during the day – and is locked in a cage like a wild animal at night. The film version will be released in the UK this autumn, and it promises to be just as original and compelling as the novel.
It seems almost impossible to reinvent the zombie genre, but then such a story comes along. In Girl with all the giftswe have a scenario vaguely reminiscent of The last of us. A mind-altering fungus infects humans and turns them into violent “famines” for no apparent reason. Our young hero Melanie is part of a second generation of hungry, who carry the fungus invaders, but are otherwise perfectly normal humans. Well, except for the part where they have the urge to eat human flesh. In a remote part of the British countryside, the army has gathered some of these second-generation children for study. While the creepy Dr. Caldwell conducts terrifying experiments on the children, their kind teacher Miss Justineau tries to raise them to be normal children. Of the entire class, Melanie is the only one who has complete control over her violent tendencies. She doesn’t chew on people except in self-defense.
As you can see in this trailer, school doesn’t last long. It is attacked by zombies and Melanie is forced to flee with Caldwell and Justineau. In the book, this leads to a seriously gripping story that encompasses both the theory of evolution and the philosophical questions of what it means to be human. While it’s not entirely clear where the movie is going in this scenario, it clearly explores the infected as a scientific phenomenon, and Melanie is at the center of it. Unlike many zombie stories, The girl with all the gifts does not offer us a post-apocalyptic world of humans versus zombies. Things are much more complicated than that, and the fate of the zombies seems inseparable from the future of humanity. Perhaps the best comparison is with In the meata British TV series about zombies whose violent urges can be controlled with drugs and who now struggle to rejoin the communities where they once ran rampant.
Pop culture may be reaching peak zombie, but stories like The girl with all the gifts proving that even the most tired tropes can feel vital again when done right. It will be shown in British cinemas from September 23.
List image by Warner Bros.