It’s a fact that a zombie movie is in the process of being made every sixty seconds. Actually, it’s not a fact. I made it up. But I’d be surprised if it wasn’t true.
They’ve transformed over the years. From shambling undead — Night of the Living Dead and their ilk — through to 28 Days Later — super fast brain munchers that run like the wind. Director Danny Boyle would disagree that his rage infected victims are zombies, but they are really, whatever he might say.
The fast variety of zombie seems to be the current favourite among film makers, and its slow cousin is becoming a rarity, finding a more comfortable home in TV shows like The Walking Dead. The episodic nature and long story arcs of TV seem like a better fit these days. The zombies aren’t always present. But they can lurk in small groups, pulling the nasty, classic zombie movie trick of lulling the human protagonists into a false sense of security. Humans are faster, but fewer, and one wrong move through over confidence can result in being overwhelmed by larger groups, or being caught off guard by the lone zombie they don’t see walking slowly behind them.
Fast or slow?
World War Z, the book, written by Max Brooks (son of Mel), focuses on the slow kind. So you’d be forgiven for thinking World War Z, the movie, would do the same. But no, it’s the fast sort. Which I imagine is something of a sore point for fans of the book. I haven’t read it by the way, but I have read its prequel, The Zombie Survival Guide, an excellent book which plays it totally straight. If there was such a thing as zombies, I genuinely think I’d stand a chance against the undead hordes with a copy of the book in my back pocket. Sounds daft, but it’s true.
All I know of World War Z, the book, in terms of structure, is that first and foremost, it’s a novel, and consists of different characters of different nationalities and their stories about fighting the zombie menace, with all of it pulled together by a central narrator.
With that in mind, you can see why the film makers of World War Z decided to concentrate on the narrator (Brad Pitt) and his globe-trotting adventures, rather than a mix of characters. It might have been too messy and disjointed. Having said that, I found the film to be disjointed anyway, mainly because it doesn’t stay in one place too long.
A bloodless exercise
Overall, it’s a somewhat bland, bloodless exercise in watering down horror to appeal to a wider audience. The version I’m reviewing here is supposedly the “Extended Action Cut” which has a bit more gore thrown into the mix than the cinematic release.
But other than a gruesome amputation to stop the zombie virus taking a fresh victim, it’s honestly not that bloody. Even then, director Marc Foster seems almost reluctant to show the true horror of the amputation in any great detail, the camera twitching nervously, eager to be somewhere else, with dollops of obviously CGI blood spurting from below the screen like they were added as a cynical afterthought to sell more blu-rays to those who were disappointed first time round. The extra blood in the rest of the film has little impact too, the camera never daring to linger for more than a nanosecond. For a horror film, it’s extremely tame.
Brad Pitt, the Jessica Fletcher of zombie movies
Of course, you might argue that horror can be just as scary with what it doesn’t show, and you’d be right. But the best examples of the horror genre know how to build mood and tension, the director laying the ground work, with your imagination filling in the rest.
World War Z jettisons all of that, and makes the big mistake of thinking that if you just pile the zombies up, and shake the camera around like a Bourne movie, it’ll be scary. Hordes of zombies swarm across the screen, jumping around with superhuman strength, headbutting cars, jumping off buildings, tumbling over each other in waves, even using their combined might to scale huge walls. They look faintly ridiculous, far too fast, and just improbable in the way they move. As a result, tension and scares drain away with each subsequent attack.
Another problem is that it’s hard to give a shit about the central character, as it’s quite possibly the most boring Brad Pitt has ever been. Admittedly, the broken up narrative doesn’t help him much. It follows a template of new country plus massive zombie attack, over and over until it becomes repetitive, before ending with a whimper in Wales. Yes, Wales! And it’s curious how in their search for a cure, nobody ever stops to think, “Hang on, every time this Brad Pitt guy turns up, the shit suddenly hits the fan, and we get attacked by loads of zombies! Mmmm, I wonder…”
He’s basically the Jessica Fletcher of zombie movies.