It seems nothing can stop the zombie genre from shambling on. "The Girl with All the Gifts" is the latest film to try a new spin on the genre, sending a bright young girl and her teacher to face flesh-eating "Hungries". Think "28 Days Later" meets "Matilda".
Based on the novel by Mike Carey "Girl" opens with a spine-tinglingly creepy setup. In an underground bunker, a group of fresh-faced children are imprisoned. Only Gemma Arterton's sad-eyed teacher shows them any kindness. But Glenn Close's icy scientist and Paddy Considine's hard-bitten soldier know how dangerous these youngsters really are...
In the title role, newcomer Sennia Nanua's bright-eyed, earnest performance makes an unsettling contrast to the danger lurking inside the kids, and it's when that menace lurks under the surface that the film is at its most effective. The first third of the movie is deliciously eerie as we're presented with her day-to-day life, with no explanation of why she and her young classmates are so loathed and feared.
Unfortunately, the second act is all too familiar as a misfit band of soldiers set out across country, their survival threatened equally by bloodthirsty zombies and bickering. A chilling and subversive final twist gives another unsettling spin on the genre, but is too little too late to electrify the familiarity of the bulk of the film.
Carey has been nominated for a BAFTA for his screenplay. Also behind the camera experienced TV director Colm McCarthy, who has worked on "Doctor Who", "Sherlock" and "Peaky Blinders". It's hard to shake the small screen feel. Apart from drone footage of the abandoned city of Pripyat, site of the Chernobyl disaster, "Girl" isn't very cinematic. The third act in particular evokes 1970s and '80s sci-fi TV teen dramas, especially as the 15-rated action is relatively sedate -- mostly shot in daylight, it lacks the breathless kinetics or frenzied horror of the "28...Later" films. Oddly, it's when the zombies terrorise our heroes that the film is at its least exciting.
A suspenseful opening and macabre climax make "The Girl with All the Gifts" a worthy attempt to do something different with the zombie genre. It has more brains than many zombie movies, but gorehounds won't find much to satisfy their appetite.
"The Girl with All the Gifts" will be available digitally on Monday and on DVD and Blu-ray on 23 January. It's slated for a US release some time in 2017.