The opening sequence sets the tone. Melanie, a young, polite, and courteous girl manacles herself into a wheel chair. She seems entirely innocent and harmless, yet her captors fear otherwise. She and other children, each similarly restrained, are given an armed escort to a classroom. It's an arresting start and it grabs our attention. Sennia Nanua plays Melanie and the story revolves around her. We watch society collapsing through her eyes, see her threatened by the human beings around her, and fear for her. We watch her do terrible things, and yet we root for her. Everything is uncertain. Nothing is as it seems. It's a brilliant performance from a new talent, and it serves the film perfectly.
Melanie is surrounded by contrasting emotions from those nearest to her. Gemma Arterton is excellent as protective and caring psychologist/teacher Helen Justineau, fiercely defending Melanie against the machinations of Dr Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) who sees Melanie as a specimen to be dissected. Paddy Considine convinces as Sergeant Eddie Parks, a tough, no- nonsense soldier fighting a losing battle.
Colm McCarthy brings this all together superbly, belying the film's modest budget. Striking visuals and frenetic action are never allowed to overwhelm the characters, who take centre stage. And at it's heart is Melanie. Confusing, ambivalent, terrifying, lovable Melanie. It's a wonderful turn from Sennia Nanua.
Highly recommended, and vastly superior to most of the genre.