Man, do I really need to say it? This whole zombie thing is played out. It’s been tired for about two or three years now, yet people are still devouring the shit like the undead on some fresh brains. I guess besides the plethora of lousy horror films and literature, I hate the aspect of the zombie craze that bleeds over into real life. Like those shitty “zombie walks” where people paint gore on their faces, splatter blood on some ripped clothes then lumber around downtown like the unoriginal nincompoops they are. Or the lazy Halloween costumes that simply combine the undead with another motif: zombie nazi, zombie nun, zombie Winston Churchill (that would actually be kinda cool).
That being said, I went into World War Z with the lowest expectations possible. Turns out that was a great idea because I walked outta the theater pretty satisfied. The movie didn’t blow me away or anything and I don’t see myself ever wanting to watch it again. But it’s a very streamlined, well-crafted thriller that’s light on sentimental schmaltz and heavy on the action. And Brad Pitt’s hair looks incredible throughout.
A large part of the film’s success is how it handles the zombies. There are no limp-legged cannibals moaning and pausing to feast on live flesh. The undead are portrayed as this vibrating hive of violence that’s only interested in spreading and tearing apart everything in its path. Once a zombie bites a person, they run to the next victim, ad infinitum. They didn’t remind me of traditional zombies at all except in a few scenes when the action slows down, then they just rock back and forth like those inflatable bop bags for kids.
Brad Pitt plays an ex-United Nations employee adjusting to his new role as a stay-at-home dad. His new job is to “make pancakes,” as he jokingly puts it. When the pandemic strikes, he’s called upon by his old boss to pinpoint patient zero and figure out a cure. As usual, Pitt is excellent. He’s one of those actors you want to dislike because he’s so friggin’ handsome and wealthy, but the man delivers.
I remember years ago when his star first starting rising I overheard a group of women talking about Pitt, getting all hot and bothered. One of them said he’s attractive because he “looks like he gives good head.” That’s always stuck with me.
While Pitt is globetrotting, looking for the pandemic’s origin, his wife is stuck on an aircraft carrier with their two young daughters. She’s played by Mireille Enos (The Killing) and she also delivers a great performance. She exudes a calm, almost meditative patience that anyone with a spouse in the military knows all too well. Sadly, her role is limited to waiting for Pitt to call, then getting anxious when the connection breaks up. This happens like five times.
Bunking up with the family is a young Spanish boy named Tomas, who Pitt rescued after his parents were zombified. He’s the one element of the film I didn’t dig. Since Pitt has two daughters, I thought they would imply that Tomas was going to bang one of them (when they’re legal age, of course) as a “life will go on” subtext. Instead he’s useless – they don’t do anything with him. There’s a shot towards the end where we see the whole family together. I though it would’ve been nice if Tomas was subtly holding the eldest daughter’s hand or wearing her scrunchie on his wrist or something. Instead he’s just standing there doing nothing. He might as well not even be in the film. I wish you were dead, Tomas.
Despite some visual hiccups, the zombie pandemonium scenes in Philadelphia and Jerusalem are really, really good looking. Even with a setting as clustered as Philly, director Marc Foster (Quantum of Solace) maintains a strong grasp on the geography. For such a global setting, the film does manage to have a really small feel, which helps it feel more personable. Foster leans on the shaky-cam nonsense a little too much at times, but not to the point of nausea. When the film cuts to a shot without Pitt or one of the other human actors, it tends to look like a video game cut-scene. But nary a minute goes by without Pitt onscreen, so don’t sweat it.
“Mother nature is a serial killer,” a scientist says at one point in the film. Aint that the truth. And World War Z is a great way to kill two hours. Regardless of the ominous production problems that plagued the film early on, the end result is an engaging thriller with a surprisingly refreshing take on zombies. There are a few moments that are downright genius, I swear. Check it out, but promise me it won’t inspire you to go to a zombie walk – unless you’re throwing rocks at them.- Patrick Cooper