Melanie is the brightest student in her classroom. Every morning she wakes up, crawls out of bed, straps herself into a wheelchair with bindings for her head, arms and feet, and waits for the guards to arrive with their sub machine guns, and ensure she is securely strapped in. She is wheeled to the classroom, with 19 other students, where they are taught by Helen Justineau, an empathetic soul in what proves to be a truly horrific world.
Melanie loves Helen. And the feeling is mutual. Helen regales her students with stories about Greek mythology, and Melanie learns more about how and why the world is the way it is. But Melanie is very young, and has never really experienced the outside world. She doesn’t understand that she and her classmates are actually test subjects for the purpose of finding a cure for an epidemic that has ravaged the world; one that turns its victims into raving flesh-eating monsters.
When Melanie starts to put together the puzzle pieces of the questions asked each night by Dr. Caroline Caldwell (played by Glen Close), like the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment (if a cat is in a closed box, is it alive or dead, a clever reference to the plight of the children and the undead. The answer, by the way is that the cat is both alive and dead. There are a couple of other cat references in the film as well). Melanie is also asked to pick a number between 1 and 20 (to her horror, notices that the students who are assigned by those particular door numbers, don’t show up for class the next morning)– she eventually picks her own door number to discover what is happening.
For a while you don’t know the setting, but you might think by watching the chaos that it’s in some war-torn country. It’s a zombie movie through and through, with hordes (“hungries” as they are called in the film), and some pretty epic gory scenes.
There is a real sense of humanity in an ironic kind of way, though, with this film. I haven’t watched a zombie film in a long time that had me weepy at one point. I read the book before I saw the film (which, according to the introduction before the film by a Toronto International Film Festival rep, where I saw the film, the entire story came out of a screenplay, not the the novel, which followed. He first saw the film at Cannes, and immediately called the TIFF big-wigs and said: “You have to get this film!”)
I concur. It is an emotional roller coaster. Easily the best zombie film I have seen this year, without a doubt.
The Girl With All The Gifts is hitting theatres on September 23rd. See it.