Following a blood trail left by cult director George A Romero, award-winning TV series The Walking Dead has consistently raised the bar for nail-biting human drama set in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
But the bar is set too high for The Girl With All The Gifts, a dystopian horror directed by Colm McCarthy and adapted for the screen by Liverpudlian author Mike Carey from his bestselling novel of the same title.
Predominantly filmed on location in the West Midlands, including Birmingham, Cannock Chase and Dudley, this grim vision of mankind teetering on the brink of annihilation feels second hand.
Scenes of the infected sinking their gnashers into human limbs or stray animals ensure plenty of blood is spilt although the on-screen violence isn’t particularly graphic or stomach-churning.
The film’s 15 certificate owes as much to potty-mouthed dialogue and a lingering shot of a character flicking through an adult magazine.
Twelve-year-old newcomer Sennia Nanua lights up the screen as the miraculous child of the title. She possesses an innate sweetness and innocence that catalyses tender scenes with more experienced co-stars, who don’t have quite as much emotional meat to sink their teeth into.
An aggressive fungal infection has reduced the majority of the population to carnivorous predators known as “hungries”.
The contagion is spread through bodily fluids and victims are inactive unless they scent living prey.
At a heavily protected military base in rural England, Dr Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) oversees experiments on a group of infected children, who have miraculously retained their mental acuity.
Her goal is to synthesize a vaccine from their brain matter and spinal fluid before the fungus becomes airborne.
Schoolteacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is one of the on-site staff, and she grows especially fond of a 10-year-old subject called Melanie (Nanua).
“She likes me best,” the girl teases Sergeant Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), whose overwhelmed troops cull the rampaging hordes that swarm around the facility.
When the security of the base is fatally compromised, Sergeant Parks escorts Dr Caldwell, Helen and Melanie off-site with fellow soldiers, Kieran (Fisayo Akinade) and Dillon (Anthony Welsh).
They trundle across rugged terrain in search of refuge from the slaughter, gun sights scanning the horizon for potential danger. “Our mission statement now is to keep ourselves off the menu,” growls Perks.
The Girl With All The Gifts shuffles through a series of claustrophobic set pieces, slowly whittling down the cast with bullets or bites. Close invests her idealistic medic with a chilling resolve, giving her character more depth than is on the page. Director McCarthy opts for a grim palette, so frequent splashes of crimson red stand out.