I first ran into The Girl With all the Gifts when a friend told me I had to watch it. He’s in the UK, and I’m in Canada, so it wasn’t an option at the time – I had to wait. Now, Andrew has amazing taste in movies and when he makes that strong a recommendation I take it seriously.
I waited, and then I found the book, so I read it. The book was the best zombie novel I have ever read (I include my own books in that list by the way – if you have to choose between buying A Long Walk and The Girl With all the Gifts, go for The Girl With all the Gifts – if you can buy two buy mine as well, please?). It was moving, emotional, deep, and scientifically plausible. I was now even more excited for the movie, but wondered how some parts of the book would translate.
One important detail about this zombie movie: The book and screenplay were both developed at the same time, by the same writer. It was always intended to be a movie. That shows in how many of the details are handled. There are differences between the movie and the book. Pieces left out of the movie that are included in the book for example… but they are presented in a way that makes each completely internally consistent and coherent. Nothing that was left out was needed for the movie, but all of it matters in the book.
The race of the two main characters matters, but it’s reversed in the movie and the book. It still works brilliantly.
The child actor who plays Melanie in the movie is incredible. Gripping. The most terrifying and realistic child performance I have seen since Kirsten Dunst in Interview With the Vampire (if you only know her from her roles as an adult you should watch Interview, it’s chilling).
I won’t give too detailed a story synopsis; watch the movie, you will understand why – but the zombies themselves are a different take on the genre. They are the product of a fungus, a real one by the way, it grows inside a host organism, gradually taking it over. One particular species actually grows in ants and before it bursts forth from their head it forces them to go somewhere high so the spores will spread as far as possible. The cordyceps fungus in the book infects the host brain and spreads via saliva. The zombies, being fungus, are not susceptible to most forms of injury. Their internal organs aren’t what’s running them. Sufficient damage seems to take them down, but it takes a lot.
There is another class of zombie, children who seem to have their mental faculties, and are in fact more intelligent than regular humans. Melanie, one of our small group of main characters, is one of these children. They eat living creatures and are incredibly efficient at processing protein.
Everything about this movie is plausible, and it often takes direction you would not imagine it’s going to. The surprises are well thought out and consistent with the world and the characters.
There is action too, of the high adrenaline kind.
As is the case with most good zombie fiction, the main conflict in the movie is actually between the humans. Specifically Miss Helene Justineau played by Gemma Arterton, a compassionate teacher with a dark incident driving her, and Dr. Caroline Caldwell played by Glenn Close, a scientist who wasn’t quite good enough to be picked for the great expedition to cure the zombies. The driving forces between these two women are incredible and understandable. The group is rounded out by Melanie herself, Sergeant Eddie Parks, and Private Kieran Gallagher.
There is no relief in this story, no moment where you aren’t on the edge of your seat. Even in the slow moments the tension is palpable.
Watch it. Read it. The order doesn’t matter, but the book and movie compliment each other so well that you should do both.