Look — up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a zombie leaping out to try to grab your helicopter! Man you’ve gotta hate when that happens. While a few folks in the theater seemed to giggle, the rest of us got our good ol’ fashioned creep on. Because World War Z perfectly melds the action and horror genres, coming up with something nobody wants to see in a horror movie, a fully functioning hybrid. And with the PG-13 rating there’s not much gore in this film. I didn’t really miss it, I never had the time to think about it. Yeah, there’s that much action. if you’re looking for an action-packed popcorn fest that’s low on gore but crammed with zombies? Honey, buy that extra-large popcorn right now.
Much has been said of the many rewrites, script-doctoring and post-production shuffles World War Z went through. However, the final product shows no wear and tear in that regard. This is the thinking man’s horror film, something that demands that you sit back and absorb how things work in our world — and in the natural kingdom — in order to get the most out of your spooky. Since Hollywood loves to throw down comparisons (and let’s face it, so do I), I’d say you can think of this as The Walking Dead meets Contagion.
World War Z doesn’t go for the cheap gore (though I am a fan of that kinda thing) or booga-booga scares. It takes Gerry (Brad Pitt, in a wonderfully down-to-earth role) and his family through hell as they try to escape a sudden and inexplicable outbreak of a virus so horrible that it takes you from bite to death to undeath/resurrection by virus in 12 seconds. The virus runs the show, taking control of human beings and turning them into one-man virus armies with one goal; to spread the virus. Teeth clack ominously, mobs of infected/zombies hurl themselves at a wall so others may make it over and infect the living. World War Z hired researchers to give the film a feeling of something that could actually happen. “If everyone was infected with the same virus, they would exhibit collective behavior,” says biologist David Hughes, a scientist this film hired to get a handle on how a virus may turn us into running, biting machines. Seeing that idea played out on the big screen? Ulp.
Lost cohorts Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard (whom I’ll always think of as the writer of the episode “Dirty Girls” for Buffy The Vampire Slayer), along with Matthew Michael Carnahan (State of Play) take Max Brook’s original novel and do some tweaking. That takes the story from a man (Gerry Lane) searching for the answers to a zombie plague that had hit the world and was brought under control, to a story about trying to find the cause of an outbreak that’s happening during the outbreak. Gotta admit that’s a more compelling film. I loved the original book, and this film does that story justice while delivering plenty of action, suspense and genuine chills.
Director Marc Forster, whose resume includes Quantum of Solace and The Kite Runner, takes his eclectic skills and puts ‘em to good use here. Are there a heckuva lot of extreme close-up shots and lightning fast cutaways? Yes. But those shots serve a purpose; they keep you trying to look, aching to figure out what’s going on. Just like the characters. Well played, Forester. Well played. Forester also keeps the action cranked up to 11 for the first half of the film, allowing viewers to ride along with the horror of seeing our world order collapse. By keeping Gerry’s family in with Army types (hey, nothing the trailers haven’t shown y’all), we focus on the zombie pandemic rather than a Family In Peril film. Thank goodness.
Why haven’t I expounded on the acting skills of the cast? Because like Contagion, this film deals with a whole mess of folks. It’s an ensemble piece that takes you from city to city, infestation to infestation. Everybody gives it all they’ve got, and it works so well that yes, I can say that David Morse (in a small, almost cameo role as a CIA operative), The Killing’s Mireille Enos (as Gerry’s terrified-for-him wife) and Daniella Kertesz (as Mossad member Segen) are wonderful. But that would be shortchanging all the other brilliant performances here. Yes, as with all horror films there are some giggle worthy moments (the zombies with their ever clicking teeth sometimes feel a bit much in extreme closeup), though those moments are few and far between. Unless you’ve been hitting the sherry a bit too hard before you walked in. Then everything’s friggin’ hilarious, amirite?
Slam-bang action right out of the gate. Plenty of foreboding, suspense and thrills. Characters that act like actual people rather than complete idiots or superheroes. I’m already dying to see this film in the dark confines of my basement TV Cave. With the lights out. “Nature is a serial killer” says one character in World War Z. Let’s hope there’s enough doom and destruction to warrant the trilogy the filmmakers are hoping for.