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Just when you thought the zombie apocalypse was all but dead Colm McCarthy appears with a fresh different approach even when it still includes familiar situations typical of the genre. His film version of the Mike Carey novel of the same name comes to vivid life under the eyes of a little girl names Melanie (Sennia Nanua).

Through the eyes of Melanie we get to see the world around her. It’s a grim world — her room little more than a makeshift cell where she’s kept locked in. Every morning she gets the rude awakening in literal form — guards with guns come in, truss her up in a wheelchair, place a mask over her face, and lead her to class where she and other children learn under the tutelage of Miss Perrineau (Gemma Arterton). Perrineau is the only adult whom Melanie relates to and who doesn’t see her as a freak of nature (or a ‘hungry’, as the zombies are referred to here), but an act of affection, caught by Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine), reveals just how dangerous these children are. Parks approaches one of the kids with his naked arm extended out and places it right in front of the boy’s face. In seconds the boy becomes a twisting, writhing form straining against his straps, snapping his teeth like a feral animal.

The children — and Melanie included — are the second generation of people born after the zombie apocalypse that practically destroyed humanity, and a later explanation by Caldwell reveals just how gruesome their births were. While infected, they still exhibit normal human behavior, and Melanie is the smartest of them all, acutely aware of everything around her, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), a scientist in charge of the compound, has discovered that the origin of the virus that took over society is bacterial in nature; the bacteria hijacks the brain and reduces the person into a raving animal in order to propagate itself. Caldwell is searching for a cure for the virus, and has settled on Melanie as her next experiment due to her intelligence.

Just as Caldwell is about to start her macabre experiment, pandemonium breaks loose when hungries break through and invade the compound in a stunning, expertly choreographed sequence. Caldwell, Perrineau, Parks, a few other guards escort Melanie out of the now ruined compound into the unknown as they attempt to find a secure location where to find refuge and for Caldwell to further her studies. Escorting Melanie doesn’t come easy; the girl is still capable of taking them out in seconds if they drop their guard, so they keep her strapped to the top of a truck. Moving into London they find a city in ruins, but the most surreal imagery comes from the group silently navigating on foot through a horde of frozen hungries while trying to avoid even the slightest detection: a sound, a smell could trigger these apparently sentient beings into a frenzy.

The zombie genre in Mike Carey’s novel continues to evolve, even when it presents familiar scenarios of people in danger, tenuous alliances being formed, self-serving egos, and third-act revelations that ever-so-subtly place the entire concept on its head by cleverly linking it to a reverse Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With an extraordinary lead as Melanie, the entire story takes on another dimension found in some of the short segments of World War Z (the book). The Girl With All the Gifts doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but it’s deeply atmospheric, reasonably well-acted, and one of the better entries in quite some time ever since The Walking Dead made the whole thing mainstream.

If you have DirecTV, you can watch The Girl With All the Gifts through their OnDemand platform — it’s been available since late January — and makes its official release in theaters and VOD February 24th.

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