Like its lead, zombie thriller The Girl with All the Gifts is neither dead nor alive but somewhere in between. Camo-clad officers swarm through a labyrinth of drab hallways to fetch their prisoners: seemingly normal children. These 20 or so 9-year-old kids each get the solitary confinement treatment but are all smiles when the soldiers barge into their rooms and strap them to the wheelchairs they'll live in for the rest of their day at "school." That's how Colm McCarthy's The Girl with All the Gifts commences -- not with gnashing teeth, but with a charming little girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua) chirping in her cell, "Good morning, private."
She's not marked by decay or blood-stained teeth, but she's absolutely a zombie -- or a "hungry," as this film calls them. McCarthy's drawing from a long line of zombie flicks that imagine the undead as more human than not and deserving of empathy. That scenario has played out on film many times before, but Girl's able to transcend some of its clichés because Melanie is so damn likable, a kind of Tracy Flick teacher's pet but with more humility and a yearning to do what's right.
A highly choreographed escape is reminiscent of the beautiful long takes in Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men; the meandering second act, however, is dead meat.