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A new film about child zombies sums up our worries about the future

We talked to the man who created it.

Image: YouTube

THE FIRST MAJOR zombie film, White Zombie, was released in 1932, and since then there’s been a continued fascination with unleashing the undead onto the big screen.

There’s something about the idea of the zombie (dead, but not quite; alive, but not quite) that’s both appalling but fascinating. Zombies want to kill the living, and want to make them one of their own – and we want to imagine whether we could survive the onslaught.

As the Atlantic points out, the zombie has its roots in Haiti, the archetype being “a projection of the African slaves’ relentless misery and subjugation”, a belief that slaves would never be free, even in the afterlife.

It’s an idea that’s been explored multiple times on screen, from Dawn of the Dead to, well, Shaun of the Dead.

CINE VEGAS Horror film director George A. Romero poses on the red carpet with zombies just before the premiere of Land of The Dead Source: AP/Press Association Images

Often zombies are used to reflect our own fears and anxieties about the society we live in. Shows like The Walking Dead make us think about whether we could survive in a world where all we have to live on are our wits.

Many of the contemporary zombie films feature an infection or a virus that threatens those who are alive, like in 28 Days Later, where we also get to see the real-life London imagined as a terrifying city where zombies lurk around the corner.

In this film, we also started to see the zombie as more than just a shuffling moron – the new generation of zombies had emotions, and they were usually bad ones.

girl gifts

In MR Carey’s film The Girl With All The Gifts, which is released this weekend, the zombie film gets another twist – what if children were zombies, and what if those children could hold the key to stopping a virus?

The film is based on the book of the same name, and the process of turning the book into a film was a fairly unusual one, with Carey – the British writer Mike Carey, using a pen name – writing both the book and screenplay simultaneously.

Carey’s well known as a comics writer, writing for X-Men Legacy, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and being behind three Vertigo series. He’s also written with his wife and daughter, and there’s a TV series, The Stranded, being worked on too. The Girl With All The Gifts is his second novel.

“The process was quite extraordinary – I  don’t think I’m ever going to be in this position again, partly because I was writing the novel and the movie at the same time, each one feeding into each other,” the former English teacher, based in Liverpool, tells TheJournal.ie.

The film stars Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close and Paddy Considine, along with newcomer Senniea Nanua, with Colm McCarthy directing.

The hungries

Source: Warner Bros. UK/YouTube

The film is based on a short story by Carey, Iphigenia In Aulis, about a future in which a fungal infection has wiped out most of the world. The infected are known as “hungries” and scavenging uninfected humans as “junkers”.

At a remote military base set up by a group of survivors known as the Beacon, a gang of children are held in captivity – children that hold the key to the fungal infection.

“I think each version played off the other in creative ways,” says Carey of the book and film. “There are significant differences – the novel has the multiple points of view. The movie is all what Melanie sees and only what Melanie sees.” Melanie is at the centre of the book, the girl who has all of the gifts. She’s both a sweet, hyper-intelligent girl and our worst nightmare, and the film plays with that dichotomy.

Post-apocalyptic creations “allow us to explore the human landscape of the world we know now and to make it pull us back from it so it looks strange and fresh again and different”, says Carey. They also reflect some of his own anxieties about the planet as it is now.

“I sort of feel looking at the world around us now, we are… biodiversity is disappearing, global warming is happening. Habitable [areas] are getting smaller. Large parts of the globe are uninhabitable, we’re going to get wars for water or for grain.”

800px-10.10.10MikeCareyByLuigiNovi1 Mike Carey Source: Luigi Novi

But he finds it exciting to imagine a dystopian version of his own world. “Finding the unfamiliar in everyday [things] so that people look at it differently, it’s an amazing thing to do.”

A lot of the settings in the movie are real world settings, including a hospital which had been closed for 10 years. An abandoned shopping centre in Stoke On Trent also plays a big part.

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“It’s a space in the middle of the city that everyone walks past without looking or thinking about it. It has a strange haunted beauty about it,” says Carey of the shopping centre.

The setting for Beacon military base has a connection to Carey’s own life – a decommissioned RAF base in Oxfordshire, it was where he had protested as a student member of CND.

“I used to lie down in front of those gates - I finally got to push the fence down [on set],” he laughs. “I’ve always been fairly bolshy and opinionated about politics. And I guess it does in a weird way it informs the stories I tell.”

“It feels like the world is on the brink of catastrophe, everything is changing, everything is changing in ways that are terrifying…” he says.

I think that feeling that general feeling informs the book and influences other things I’m writing at the moment. It’s hard to know where we will be in five or 10 years’ time, isn’t it.

Carey found the Brexit vote “utterly dismaying and devastating”, pointing out that it could impact on some of the people he worked on the film with.

“We’re forced not to see people as people”

Some of the characters in The Girl With All The Gifts are truly dislikeable people, though some reveal themselves to be a little softer as time goes on. For Carey, it was about finding people’s humanity.

“I think the crucial thing is to show all of those characters from their own point of view and from their own point of view they are the hero of the story and the moral arbiter,” he points out.

“The thing that comes up again and again I think in the novel and the movie is the ways in which our roles, the social roles we’re carrying out force us not to see people as people,” says Carey. “In the story the logic is that you have to get engaged with Melanie as a person before you realise she is a monster.”

Her teacher, Helen Justineau, “is someone who is not good at keeping that distance”, says Carey. “She says at one point ‘I am not a good person’… She can’t keep her guard, she can’t stop herself from behaving towards these children as though they were children.”

Carey’s currently working on a prequel to Girl With All The Gifts, which is due out in May. Then there’s another comic book due out early next year.

And if there ever is a zombie apocalypse? Well, we could do worse than follow these guidelines.

Read: The US has a (semi) official plan to deal with a zombie outbreak>

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