Thought the zombie genre was getting tired? Think again. With its swarming undead hordes and sweeping aerial shots, World War Z is a surprising zombie movie on an unprecedented scale.
When a zombie virus threatens to wipe out humanity, ex-UN official, Gerry (Brad Pitt), is sent to search for the source of the outbreak with the hope of finding a cure. So far, so conventional, but World War Z’s appeal is all in the spectacle.
As the movie opens, Gerry witnesses the outbreak first hand, trapped with his family in the falling city of Philadelphia. This zombie onslaught is immediate and spectacular - the undead run through crowded streets with more energy than the living and form a swarm within seconds.
Director Marc Forster (whose eclectic film catalogue includes Machine Gun Preacher, Quantum Of Solace and the Will Ferrell comedy-drama Stranger Than Fiction) cultivates tension from the very beginning with opening credits that contextualise the outbreak. News footage escalates into grotesque imagery of animals brawling and devouring each other in a sign of what is to come.
Gerry contacts the American government, signaling a shift in perspectives, to reveal the scale of the disaster and aerial shots of cities tumbling under zombie destruction make for impressive viewing. From here, Gerry’s search takes him to numerous locations - including Korea and Jerusalem - where there’s plenty of opportunity to see how the infected masses behave. A towering wall of zombies charging the Jerusalem stronghold is jaw-dropping.
With writers from television’s Lost (Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard) on the screenwriting team, World War Z finds time for the occasional creepy moment. A burned out corpse in a Korean military facility layers up the mystery of the outbreak’s source, but World War Z’s eerie potential remains disappointingly underused.
Instead this zombie disaster movie puts the virus centre stage, ‘Contagion’ style. “Mother nature is a serial killer,” says one enthusiastic scientist and the twelve second pace at which the virus infects its victims is shown in frightening detail. Yet the focus on the virus angle is double edged - at first providing a neat, disaster-movie approach, before finally undoing the film’s spectacular style.
First of all, Forster’s zombies are not the typical brain-eating undead. Aside from their speed and climbing abilities, these zombies are focused on virus spreading.
Hunger is placed on the back-burner as these energetic undead jump from victim to victim, biting and moving on. Gore seekers will no doubt find this underwhelming but, as long as we have Forster’s magnificent panoramic shots of zombie hordes, gratuitous carnage is not missed in World War Z’s signature style.
Unfortunately Gerry’s search for a cure leads him to an understated final location in isolated rural Wales. The result is a small scale finale, just when the battles should be getting even bigger. Spectacular zombie swarms give way to unsurprising one-on-one zombie scuffles. The state of the zombies up close - in their slow, dormant, unstimulated state - is much too conventional to generate anything close to the film’s earlier thrills.
Yet his subdued finale is held together by a solid performance from Brad Pitt - despite the script revealing little more than Gerry’s surface character traits - and despite its conventional styling, the plot hangs together well.
Spectacular in its zombie volume and disaster theme, World War Z is a surprising and worthy addition to the undead movie genre. While a conventional finale undermines much of World War Z’s originality, tension rarely wanes in this undead disaster flick.
Running Time: 116 minutes