Zombies have seemingly been everywhere in pop culture for over a decade. That prominence in pop culture has led a certain level of stagnation, as if the hordes of the undead aren’t just rotting within the stories but in the imagination behind the scenes. There’s hope on the horizon for the genre in the form of The Girl with All the Gifts, a refreshing and different take on zombies. Director Colm McCarthy recently took the time to talk to me about The Girl with All the Gifts, and how he and author Mike Carey were able to do something different within the genre by not setting out to do so.
“Actually, it’s not true to say that it’s an adaptation of the novel. What happened was a very unusual process,” McCarthy explains of the film’s different style of adapting Mike Carey’s hit novel. “What kind of happened with the film that was unusual was that Mike had written a short story on which both the novel and the film are based. We started conversations, himself and Camille Gatin, the producer, and I, about doing something with it or doing something together based on we loved his short story, which is kind of like the first five minutes of the film. We did a lot of chatting, a lot of conversations and it kind up in the room, the ending of the story. Once we had a beginning and ending we felt we probably have got a film.”
Both the novel and the screenplay for The Girl with All the Gifts emerged from Mike Carey’s short story and the publication of the novel came at quite the fortuitous time. “While we were waiting for development money to try and make that into a script, Mike was still really pumped up about this and started working a novel out of that story, and that’s the novel that became The Girl with All the Gifts. We got the money for the script and he worked on the script,” the director explained. “What wound up happening just at the point where we were just getting ready to go out to actors and start to finance the film, the novel was ready for publication and wound up being successful. We had this crazy thing with Joss Whedon tweeting about it and stuff, and there was thing buzz going on and it made financing and getting the film together an awful lot easier. It was a real godsend.”
The opening scenes of The Girl with All the Gifts presents a fresh perspective on zombies because it focuses on children that are stuck halfway between humanity and horror, infected with the fungal infection that is responsible for the zombie plague while retaining their personalities. This is emobided in the character of Melanie, played by the young Sennia Nanua. “We didn’t necessarily sit down and going ‘How can we do a fresh zombie film?’ It was more that Mike had written this short story which was this central idea that the main character was both a monster and this incredibly innocent kind of open person,” the filmmaker told me. “I sort of think that any kind of mythical or fantastical or science fiction or even archetypal character or situation is kind of like a building block which you can use to tell a story in an original or unique way if you’ve got something to say. I guess the thing is we had some stuff that we wanted to say, or at least explore. So using zombies, or ‘hungries’ as we called them, was a cool and interesting and different way of doing that. It wasn’t necessarily because we were setting out with the goal of trying to defy the genre. In fact, we love the genre. The early [George A.] Romero films that I still love, you know.”
Working within a genre that has become familiar, how is it possible to still generate scares when people are so familiar with the genre’s tropes? “The scares in this film I think it’s best when they come out of character. They come out of the sense of knowing the characters and being worried about them,” McCarthy explained. “A lot of good horror movies create moods and atmosphere without the threat being presented. That’s not necessarily the thing we kind of worried about. The thing we were really interested in was Melanie as a character and investigating that and these ideas of the world kind of being reclaimed by nature and that stuff. It was much more the idea of something taking over your mind and whether you have the free will that you think you have, which is a different kind of horror than a zombie jumping out of a box. That was the horror that was most exciting to us, that psychological thing about free will and kind of control of your brain and stuff.”
Just because McCarthy touts the psychological aspects of the film doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of moments where the action jumps out at you. “You know surprises are always good and when you’ve got a good surprise up your sleeve you can kind of hide it in plain sight a bit. That’s a lot of the fun of storytelling,” he said.
The fantastic cast of The Girl with All the Gifts is headlined by Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine, but there’s one performer that you might not expect to see in a zombie movie – Glenn Close. “It’s was funny with Glenn. We were kind of talking about who were the best actresses in the world that could play that part and she was high up on that list. We did a bit of talking around with agents and she was, you know, she was available. So were like, ‘What have we got to lose?’” the director recalled. “What was interesting was we made a very deliberate decision to have developed this story with strong female characters, and I think that’s character that had it been a male would’ve been a lot harder to get someone to do because men are quite often sent the part of strong, older authority figure. Unfortunately, women are sent that part a lot less commonly. So I think Glenn just really liked the part and wanted to do it. Also, she was excited by the fact – she was like, ‘I don’t get sent zombie films.’ The thing is a lot of people think ‘Oh she would never want to do it, so don’t send her the stuff.’ It was a very unusual thing to be making this low budget British independent horror movie and have a six-time Academy Award nominee playing one of the supporting parts.”
Finally, Colm McCarthy has another project in the can that isn’t in the horror genre but is obviously the subject of much speculation and anticipation – the pilot for the Syfy series Krypton. “Well I can’t say a lot apart from what’s already out there in the public realm,” the director said, having to play coy considering he’s probably restrained by a variety of non-disclosure agreements. “David Goyer is involved and written a draft of the script, which I read and thought was brilliant. It’s the story of the rise and fall of the House of El on Krypton 200 years before the birth of Superman. I think all of this out there already. I think it’s cool and hopefully will be out there and on people’s screens later this year.”
Until Krypton graces television screens in the near future, you can get better acquainted with the sharp visceral style of Colm McCarthy when The Girl with All the Gifts becomes available in select theaters and VOD platforms of February 24th, 2017.