“THE living dead threaten us as one world and only as one world can we survive.” So begins author Max Brooks’ deadly serious The Zombie Survival Guide. It’s a missive that is carried through the collated accounts of individuals who experienced the apocalyptical worldwide zombie war in his subsequent 2006 novel World War Z. The makers of the film version have gone against Brooks’ advice in favour of focussing on the plight of one American man and his family.
Forster has delivered a relentless actioner that tosses 3D body parts into your face and leaves you breathless as the towering zombie hoards appear increasingly undefeatable.
This action horror drops the audience right in the deep end of a pool filled to the brim with zombies. After a cursory introduction of ex-UN agent Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife and two daughters, a wave of zombie attacks wipes out Philadelphia. This turns out to be only one small incident in a worldwide outbreak of a virus that causes zombie-like symptoms.
Humans everywhere are rapidly being wiped out or assimilated into the growing hoards of the undead. Lane is brought back on board by the UN who need his investigative expertise to help stop the spread of the plague. In exchange for keeping his family safe, Lane must go on a country-hopping journey to locate patient zero in a bid to find a cure.
This is a welcome and determinedly grim addition to the zombie canon that has been more comedy than horror of late, largely thanks to films like the tongue-in-cheek Cockneys vs Zombies and teen zom-rom-com Warm Bodies. The variety of zombie in question is quickly established as the running, leaping, rabid kind. Shambling is strictly limited to when there are no viable living hosts in the vicinity.
This sets the pace of director Marc Forster’s film, who cut his teeth through a host of genres, from action with the disappointing Bond Quantum of Solace (2008) to the biographical and vacuous Machine Gun Preacher (2011). As he has in the past, Forster has directed a film that favours one-note characters over any in-depth study of human nature, but in this case that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The focus is on fast-paced action, gun fights and explosions.
Although there is a multitude of talented scriptwriters involved – including Joss Whedon, collaborator Drew Goddard and his fellow Lost producer Damon Lindelof – the multiple viewpoints structure of Brooks’ novel has been dropped, resulting in a film that is more ‘inspired by’ than a straight adaptation. As such the political, ethical and sociological themes that the book handled so brilliantly are mostly absent from the film. The fight for survival, however, is still at the forefront of the story. By centring on one individual’s plight the writers have brought cohesion to the narrative and this arguably works better for the big screen version.
Pitt’s character Lane will do anything to protect his family. The fact that they spend a large part of the film in relative safety does lower the threat levels somewhat, but you can forgive the perfunctory use of his wife (Mireille Enos from TV’s The Killing) and daughters because Lane himself is rarely out of danger. Despite some occasional ropy acting on Pitt’s part, there’s no denying that Lane is a man you’d want around in the zombie apocalypse – all he needs is duct tape, a magazine and a knife. His survival might be occasionally implausible – at one point it’s entirely dependent on a seatbelt – but the film is no less enjoyable.
There is little in the way of characterisation however. Supporting characters are plot devices at best and don’t serve a purpose past their primary function – Daniella Kertesz’s wounded soldier Segen is kick ass but superfluous, while Brad’s family are frustratingly ill drawn and underused. But Forster ensures that there isn’t time to dwell on these details as he drags his characters from one perilous situation to the next.
Forster has delivered a relentless actioner that tosses 3D body parts into your face and leaves you breathless as the towering zombie hoards appear increasingly undefeatable. His depiction of a world that’s descended all too easily into chaos is fully realised and terrifyingly credible.
His vast, international action set pieces are so incredible, in fact, that the small-scale finale can only disappoint. While this doesn’t diminish the adrenalin-fuelled enjoyment of the film as a whole, it does leave you wishing that Forster had taken a more even-handed approach with his special effects budget.
World War Z might not depict the political melting pot that the novel excelled in portraying, but as a standalone film it’s an exhilarating action horror that's definitely worth a watch.
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