We all know that this Halloween will not look like other Halloweens from years past. And yet, the month of October waits for us all the same. It is about time we put the spirit of Halloween back into that abandoned department store that we call the year of 2020. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema put together a curated, month-long series called Screen Screams. This time, we will be covering all things zombies. For this review, we look at one of the most iconic zombie films of the 2010s: World War Z.
In my review of Day of the Dead, I claimed that “Romero said all that needed to be said about humanity and zombies”. While to an extent, I still agree with that sentiment, my colleagues at Full Circle have proven me wrong. Their articles have examined masterworks ranging from 28 Days Later to Zombieland. The majority of the films we’ve covered have displayed how the zombie genre can grow and evolve. Yet to me, the film that really proved there was more cinematic life left in the undead was World War Z.
Before its release in summer 2013, World War Z had all the makings of a disaster. The production went notoriously over budget and it had its entire third act rewritten by Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof. Then there’s the problematic aspect of the film being PG-13. Somehow, someway, the stars aligned, and World War Z debuted to mammoth success, financially and critically. For some, though, few talk about it. And that’s a shame, because it’s the most successful attempt at showing how a zombie virus would ravage the globe.
Director Marc Forster brings the realism that marked projects like The Kite Runner. Forster and cinematographer Ben Seresin bring us a world not allegorical, but very much like our own. Circa 2013, at least. The film follows Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN field agent who is enjoying his time off with his children in Philadephia. Pitt gifts Gerry with a remarkably lived-in quality; a man who has seen hell and now spends his time giving his family the love they deserve. However, he doesn’t have much time to do so, as while taking his children to school a zombie virus breaks out.
The first act of this film is adrenaline straight to your veins. Never before has the beginnings of a zombie virus felt so immediate. Although the zombie designs themselves are only above-average, they move in a herky-jerky, fast manner that is utterly fear-inspiring. Moreover, the zombies act not as one, but as a whole – literally flooding the streets and the surrounding buildings. Gerry and his family rush from location to location in a mad dash to get to an extraction helicopter. Each minute feels like an eternity, as the dire situation keeps multiplying and multiplying.
It’s the nightmare scenario for anybody who fears the living dead. That same fear gets heightened as Gerry reconvenes with an old UN buddy who tells him he has to come back into the fold to help figure out a way to halt the spread of the epidemic. The second act, by that trade, takes a marked global shift. Now, Gerry has to travel across the world, exploring different locales to figure out how to beat this thing.
World War Z gets major points for creativity here. Gerry first visits a military base in South Korea, where he discovers the zombie hunt by sound. In something ripped straight out of A Quiet Place (before A Quiet Place even released), he has to try and silently make his way from one of the bases to the other. It is fist-clenchingly wrought with tension. Another sequence, later, when zombies overrun the fortified city of Jerusalem, takes on an audacious blockbuster scale. Hordes overwhelm everything in sight, and it’s hard to sit back and just say “wow” at the magnitude of what’s happening.
It must be said that a common criticism of the second act is the perceived support of the military institutions involved. In this day-and-age, that’s a valid concern, but Forster holds back any kind of endorsement. As a character, Gerry is here to try and learn what he can from all corners of the world; an objective observer who will do what he can to save the lives of not only his families, but families everywhere.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the completely rewritten third act. World War Z pops the brakes hard, and it forces Gerry into a more intimate locale than we’ve seen previously. I wouldn’t dare spoil much of what happens next, but Gerry takes all he’s learned and finds a solution that would be a deus-ex-machina if weren’t so cleverly built up throughout the film.
In its singular moments, World War Z is a damn fine film. As a whole, it plays more like a prestige picture than your average B-grade zombie movie. It’s a triumph of blockbuster filmmaking, telling an intimate story about how one man goes through hell and learns all he can from the world to save human life as we know it. It’s bombastic, and it earns every single moment. World War Z is bonafide proof of the kinds of stories we can still mine out of those shambling creatures. – James Preston Poole
World War Z is now available on home video and digital HD.