WORLD WAR Z. Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove, and James Badge Dale. Directed by Marc Forster. Rated M (Horror themes, violence and infrequent coarse language). 116 min.
This American horror film is based loosely on the novel of the same name by Max Brooks. It is an action movie about a pandemic that threatens the world by turning humans into zombie-like victims, who are also spreaders, of an insidious disease. The Z in the title refers to Zombies.
An ordinary day begins and Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former investigator for the United Nations, takes his family out for a drive on the streets of Philadelphia. A traffic jam signals the disaster that approaches. Gerry realizes that something is terribly wrong and tries desperately to ensure the safety of his wife, Karen (Mireille Enos) and his two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove). With great difficulty he secures a bunk for them on a Navy battleship 200 miles out to sea from New Jersey, and to keep them there he promises to join the battle to save the world. He is put in charge of tracking the source of the disease, and he has the help of the US Army Special Forces, under the command of Captain Speke (James Badge Dale).
The disease is fast-spreading and Lane travels across continents, which include America, South Korea and Israel, trying to contain the threat. As the disease spreads, the numbers of zombies increase. Armies around the globe are unable to resist, and Governments and their Presidents are falling.
The film is full of imagery which starts to achieve its real force half-way through the movie. People everywhere are being turned into walking, chomping corpses. Scenes of human flotsam spilling over buildings and walls are graphic and harrowing to watch and the horror of these scenes is accentuated by camera long-shots of the en-mass spread. Swarms of zombie humans hit like waves, and in classic disaster-movie style, hysteria breaks out everywhere. The scale of destruction is immense. Labelled technically as the undead, victims of the disease combine to form a seething, tentacle-like mass that spills over all obstacles in its path with deadly intent. The atmosphere of constant threat is insidious, and the undead are photographed to look like spreading bacteria. The images are truly horrifying. People everywhere are overtaken by zombies, who advance like insects. In most Zombie movies, there is copious blood and gore. Not so here. Such isn’t necessary to communicate the scale of the horror.
The film is somewhere between a zombie movie in the classic tradition, and an international thriller in which the safety of the entire world is at stake while the world waits to be rescued. Gerry Lane works hard to find a solution and he makes choices along the way that don't seem very plausible. The film inevitably invites comparison with Soderbergh’s more thoughtful “Contagion” (2011) which is also about an infectious disease spreading death world-wide. ”Contagion” is more provocative than this movie, but not as creepy or scary.
Brook’s novel was a thinly-disguised satire of American foreign policy and global anxiety about what lies ahead in the next millennium, and the character of Gerry Lane was not in it. Here, the barbed satire and parody are missing, and the film’s action is imbedded firmly in the context of a film that virtually pits one man against an inexhaustible supply of living corpses. The film has more than a hint of patriotism about it, and is decidedly pro-family.
The movie holds its tension very well. Despite the quality of Pitt’s acting, its impact lies indisputably in its scenes of the undead, swarming and piling high in their thousands. The special effects to achieve these scenes are amazing. The result is truly spectacular, and there is a particularly impressive plane crash after zombies emerge from the toilet on board to infect the passengers. The movie concludes, with knowing anticipation of health hazards that, “our war has just begun”.
This impressive film is not for the faint-hearted, and children should be kept well away from it. The images of the undead are astounding, but are nightmare material for the unsuspecting.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out June 20th 2013.