The zombies are out of control—and, in director Marc Forster’s “World War Z,” even Brad Pitt is at his wit’s end as he hopscotches around the globe to find a cure for the deadly pandemic that comes between him and his brave but vulnerable wife (Mireille Enos) and young kids.
With the inexhaustible ills that plague the world these days, it’s easy to brush off the film’s not-so-subtle metaphors for personal anxieties and socio-political maladies that are cloaked in the guise of its zombie apocalypse.
But, the flesh-eating creatures that have haunted viewers’ worst nightmares—from George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” to Francis Lawrence’s “I Am Legend” and Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead”—are as “relevant” as the senseless wars we wage against one another, or the bird flu and HIV viruses, whose treatment continues to elude the world’s best minds.
Max Brooks, on whose novel the movie is loosely based, succinctly explains the analogy: “Zombies are the perfect tool for exploring apocalyptic fears. You have to believe that this could happen—because there are things out there that are scarier than zombies, and we hardly talk about them!” Forced to cope with the inevitability of violence, a world overrun by the undead strips man of his pretenses.
At the heart of the story is the film’s reluctant hero, former UN operative Gerry Lane (Pitt), who is spurred back into action when the Allied Forces threaten to throw his loved ones back into their zombie-infested neighborhood if he refuses the task at hand!
Gerry’s mission is to locate the source of contagion and find a cure—but, that’s obviously easier said than done. And, be forewarned: Brooks’ undead are unlike the silly “hoppers” of Chinese cinema, or the waddling-and-shambling weirdos in “The Walking Dead”—they can sprint, leap and chase their victims aggressively!
“World War Z” won’t please everybody, however—it lacks punch because it “consciously” avoids the gory blood-and-guts excesses of George Romero’s “Day of the Dead”—and, to press for a more serious tone, it also sidesteps the humor of Ruben Fleischer’s “Zombieland” or Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead.” Moreover, the whiny cluelessness of some supporting characters is a source of annoyance—although that’s par for the course in the horror genre.
The earnest and solid Brad Pitt takes impending danger seriously—which makes sense, because it’s hard to draw humor from a swarm of ravenous zombies as they descend upon their hapless prey!
Forster effectively generates a creeping sense of dread (check out Pitt’s scene with David Morse, who plays a loony ex-CIA agent), as well as urgency and claustrophobia, even without directly showing the danger that lurks and encroaches: He builds anticipation to induce suspense.
Among the film’s thrilling and chilling sequences: Its heart-stopping opener, Gerry’s mad rush to the rooftop of a high-rise building that’s crowded with the undead, the shocking “accident” that compromises the quarantined walls of a now unified Israel, and the horrifying havoc that ensues on a UK-bound plane!
Another hair-raising moment takes place at a research facility in Wales, where Gerry sees a flickering light at the end of the tunnel—but, to get there, he has to evade some 80 screeching and teeth-clacking zombies, who eagerly lie in wait for the next susceptible human, to make him bite the dust!