"unique and interesting story trapped in the confines of one of the least unique and interesting genres to create a weird hybrid"

Melanie (Sennia Nanua) lives happily in a secure bunker with a gang of other children. They are watched over by soldiers who make sure the children are locked in their rooms or strapped securely into wheelchairs whenever they leave them to attend classes. Despite Melanie’s cheerful disposition the only time the children seem to have any relief is in the classes of Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) when she interrupts the curriculum to read them fantastical stories of greek mythology and the like.

However, Miss Justineau’s emotional attachment to the children is frowned upon by the strict Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) and cold clinical Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) who view the children as monsters and test subjects respectively. You see the country (or perhaps the world, I don’t think it was ever fully explained) has turned into a dystopian nightmare that is linked to these children in some way and the bunker is one of the last safe places, but not for long.

What’s really going on here is not exactly an intricate mystery, and I’m fairly sure it’s been spoiled by the trailers and advertising (plus it’s based on a book so the story is out there), but there’s an interesting reveal and build up through the course of the movie that’s fun to see even if you know where it’s going. Suffice to say this is a zombie movie, sort of, with a unique feel and surprisingly original plot considering the genre.

That being said we do largely end up plodding through the zombie movie checklist, ticking off set pieces one by one, to the point where at times it starts to overshadow the originality. We sort of have a very unique and a very cliche story playing out at the same time, fighting over each other for screen time, and frankly I thought it was a bit of a mess. The bits I liked I really liked, but the rest was the same old same old and I can find better scares and better action in other similar movies easily.

The characters work well together, they really endear themselves to you and their arcs feel natural, helped of course by the fantastic cast, and the ambiguity of the hero/villain dynamic is much deeper than you would normally get in this kind of movie, it will genuinely make you think. But clever as it is, I can’t help but feel the movie could have been more, even though I can’t put my finger on what I mean by that exactly. More stylised perhaps, more world building, I don’t know it just felt like the movie was missing something, not quite reaching its potential.

Without any spoilers the film starts to go a bit Lord of the Flies at one point and I think I’d rather have seen that play out than the atypical survival story of the name cast. Tonally I didn’t think the film held together, I was never entirely on anyone’s side and wasn’t always clear when scenes were supposed to be happy or sad not really knowing whose motivations I was supposed to be sympathising with, which goes double for the ending as I’m really not sure what the movie wanted me to feel about that. There’s a fine line between ambiguity and confusion and I feel this story is horribly balanced upon it.

So a unique and interesting story trapped in the confines of one of the least unique and interesting genres to create a weird hybrid of the two. It’s a good film, a horror film for people who aren’t particularly into horror films you could say, which should be ringing my bell but for whatever reason it didn’t quite draw me all the way in.