“The Girl With All The Gifts” is an excellent book by M.R. Carey, who also wrote the screenplay for the equally good film version directed by Colm McCarthy. It’s the story of Melanie, a super-bright student in a strange army base school where the kids are strapped into their seats and kept in cells. When Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) comes through and requests to see certain children, they never return. It quickly becomes clear that these kids must not be normal, even though Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is very likable, with her doting crush on her teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) – the only person who treats the children kindly.
Unknown to Melanie, her classroom is part of a desperate experiment in a post-apocalyptic England, after a fungus known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis – the real life “zombie ant” fungus – learned how to jump species and decimated the human population, turning its victims into “hungries.” Yes, we’ve seen zombism-as-plague before, but the twist is that Melanie and her classmates are somewhere in between, infected but fully functioning as long as people wear a pheromone-masking chemical known as e-blocker. Dr. Caldwell is on a mission to discover a cure for mankind within the brains of these anomalous kids, no matter how many of them she has to slaughter to succeed. In the book, we learn how much of it has to do with her ego and stung pride from being passed over in an important position.
Before she can get her hands on Melanie’s brain, however, the military base is compromised and real hungries come crashing in, forcing the survivors out on the run. The movie follows the book very closely, although it leaves out the secondary threat of violent, feral humans that live out among the hungries. It also omits Miss Justineau’s story for why she feels she doesn’t deserve Melanie’s love, and switches the ethnicity of the two characters: in the book, Melanie is white and blonde, while Miss Justineau is black with long curly hair. Regardless, the cast, which includes Paddy Considine as the fiercely practical Sgt. Eddie Parks and Fisayo Akinade as his one command, are all outstanding.
The movie can’t translate all of Melanie’s clever thoughts from the book, of course, but in both versions, the story is gripping and the action is scary. They share the same unexpected ending as well – one you might mull over for quite some time.