by Henry Ofori
Now I’ll be the first to admit. Zombie movies have never and will never be my thing. Nevertheless it’s nothing a little bit of research can’t help and it actually turns out I know more than I first thought. In other words I AM qualified to describe how Brad Pitt’s foray into the zombie genre was worthwhile and entertaining.
Directed by Marc Forster, World War Z starts off with us gaining insight into the suburban life of Gerry (Brad Pitt) and Karin (Mirielle Enos) Lane, with the former being rather adept at making pancakes and giving winning smiles. Forster does well to not beat around the bush and throw us straight into the action when Gerry and the family get stuck in a traffic jam. An explosion occurs which turns out to be foreshadowing the threat and panic that ensues. Anxiety overloads and everyone leaves their cars, but not quick enough for Gerry not to catch a glimpse of someone transforming into a maggot-like zombie who seems to have a bad case of spasm attacks. The zombies then attack Gerry and his family (along with anyone else they can find) until a UN helicopter extracts them from tower block and takes them to a US navy ship in the middle of the sea. It turns out the zombies have been infected by a virus and Gerry’s old job was one of being the UN’s top investigator in countries that faced crises. His old boss UN Deputy Secretary-General Thierry (Fana Mokoena) blackmails him out of retirement so his family can stay on the ship and is entrusted alongside an over-his-head doctor with finding the virus’ source.
This turns into a worldwide search and as a result the film becomes more a disaster movie then it does horror and as a result we don’t feel the full force of the horror genre until very much so later. Perhaps that was a ploy by Forster… Well I think it works. As Gerry and co cross the South Korea and Jerusalem finding the answers the locations give it an exotic feel.
Across the board the acting is pretty strong, and Pitt’s performance in particular considering I’ve rarely witnessed his charisma outside his usual cool, mysterious onscreen persona. Enos seems to have the role of being the worrying wife throughout, but considering the film was produced through Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment you can’t be that surprised that the main focus is Pitt.
Speaking of the film’s production, it’s been well documented the troubles, delays and rewrites that had to be endured (which gives reason to the four screenwriters). I could feel the unevenness once but it was only momentarily. The filmmakers must have done well to bring everything together (If you want an example where a film had a troubled production and it all went to creative Hell, try Jonah’s Hex). Forster does well to make us feel the overall sense of panic and disorientation. The wide angle shots filled with the CGI of the zombies moving in swarms was rather captivating (most definitely during the escapade in Jerusalem) and memorable even if the result ended up in highly-charged, run-of-the-mill, everything-on-the-line action pieces. However such scenes are welcome in this film, giving you a thrill ride that keeps you engaged right up until the last scenes. It’s in the last scenes where Gerry alongside Israeli solider Segan make it to the medical facility that Forster cleverly goes back to the roots off good horror filmmaking: suspense, unbearable silence and deliberate lulls to catch off guard that even I couldn’t help but fall into, because there were indeed some tense moments within that final sequence.
Perhaps if there was more of this, the film may have reached the higher realms of cinema, however the big-budget, high stakes tone Forster went for would have been inconsistent with this. One commentator spoke of how the film’s low budget elements were more triumphant than the film’s visual masterstrokes. To an extent I agree. The scene where the Special Forces had to refill the airplane is a testament to this. However I think Forster does well to incorporate all of these elements and he does so intelligently. The ending will leave some scratching their head, but World War Z is a movie that may not be remembered in the long run, but will be worth those 2 and bit hours.