World War Z
Starring Brad Pitt, Daniella Kertesz, Mireille Enos
Director Marc Forster
The zombie filmography primarily consists of claustrophobic tales with small groups of individuals trying to survive among the undead. Their stories invariably pick up well after the initial apocalypse. You know the drill.
In contrast, World War Z - like the Max Brooks book this film is based on - grandly tackles the global zombie outbreak at ground zero and chronicles its spread as a geopolitical epic.
It's a very different approach, less a horror movie and more a disaster thriller. The highlight is director Marc Forster's rendering of tsunamis of flesh eaters as never seen on film before. That part is impressive but, alas, it is not sustained.
At the centre of the story is United Nations field agent, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), who is trying to trace the origin of the plague. The film starts with him and his family surviving a zombie onslaught in downtown Philadelphia. The undead arrive in an aggressive ant colony-like swarm . This opening resembles War of the Worlds, complete with a Spielbergian dangling of helpless children into unpredictable terror.
After the wife (Mireille Enos) and kids are whisked to safety on a military destroyer at sea, Lane - whose skill set resembles those of Man Vs Wild's Bear Grylls - flies to various parts of the world seeking clues about what they are battling. Even as global infrastructure fails, he manages to crisscross continents to piece together a defence against the pandemic.
A contentious alteration from the book is to change the source of the zombies from China to South Korea (all in the hope of securing a favourable film release on the mainland). From a mostly deserted military base near Seoul, the story jumps over to Jerusalem before the ancient city is invaded, and then to a World Health Organisation research facility in the UK.
This middle section explores the zombie disease as a metaphor for all sorts of socio-political issues, including environmental decay, the politics of world health, and globalism. Here, it feels like Steven Soderbergh's Contagion invigorated with some feisty living dead from 28 Days.
Still, there is an urgency to the suspense and Pitt makes for a believable hero. Unfortunately, this zombie war suffers from an army of writers - five, to be exact, and it shows.
The last half hour of the movie switches tone again, reverting to typical zombie showdown mode. Sadly, the ending is predictable, uninvolving and renders most of the plot set-up irrelevant. This makes for a big disappointment considering how good the trailer looked.
World War Z opens on June 20