The Last of Us Has a Shocking Ending. A 2016 Fungal Apocalypse Movie Went Further.
You know Ellie. Now meet Melanie.
“In a bleak future, mankind has succumbed to a fungus that turns everyone into flesh-eating monsters, until an immune child is discovered and becomes humanity’s only hope for a cure.” That sounds like a perfect summation of HBO’s The Last of Us, right? But that’s actually the synopsis of a 2016 British movie on Tubi. It’s the perfect companion piece to the HBO series, similar enough to immediately be recognizable, but different enough to explore elements that The Last of Us couldn’t.
The Girl with All the Gifts, directed by Colm McCarthy, doesn’t initially present itself as a zombie movie. We follow Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a precocious 13-year-old prisoner who’s only transported out of her cell when strapped into a wheelchair with head, arm, and leg restraints.
Regardless of those restrictions, she seems content with her life, greeting every soldier she meets as she’s wheeled into a classroom full of children like her. She especially loves her teacher, Miss Justieau (Gemma Atherton), who treats all the children like they’re normal. But something is off. Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) keeps assessing her intelligence and removing children for research who are never seen again.
When Melanie volunteers for the research, she learns the truth: a fungal zombie apocalypse rages outside, and the children are the second generation of the infected. They have the fungus in their brain and could be the key to a cure, but before Melanie can be dissected, the “hungries” break into the base. The only people who make it out alive are Melanie, Dr. Caldwell, Sargeant Parks (Paddy Considine), and some soldiers destined to be zombie fodder. Together, they try to survive while coming to some disturbing conclusions.
It’s a straightforward premise, but the movie puts a unique twist on the genre. For example, Melanie and the other “neonates” turn into mindless zombies when they smell human flesh, so everyone in the base wears a gel to keep their smell disguised.
Melanie isn’t a Chosen One like Ellie, just one of many children with the same condition. She’s also just steps away from full-blown zombieism, and if she doesn’t eat regularly, her brain will go feral. Because the other zombies see her as one of them, they don’t acknowledge her as she scouts for her human companions while curbing her hunger with street animals. That leads to darkly clever moments like Melanie stopping to look at an ad featuring a cat, leading Miss Justineau to ask if she would ever want a cat. She responds, “I already had one,” while wiping blood off her face.
But what really elevates The Girl with All the Gifts from a Last of Us companion piece to a memorable movie in its own right is a twist ending that turns zombie movies on their head. It’s a happy ending, of sorts, but one that questions the validity of humanity’s desire to survive at all.
The Last of Us may be all the rage right now, but The Girl with All the Gifts also reflects on what it means to survive in a zombie apocalypse, how circumstances force young girls to grow up quickly, and what the future of our species looks like. It’s a reminder that this genre is deeper than it’s given credit for, and it’s well worth revisiting if your taste for fungi hasn’t been sated.
The Girl with All the Gifts is streaming for free on Tubi.