Thank God for brothers who are as die-hard-cinephile as their sisters, because thanks to mine, not only did I get to see Brad Pitt in the flesh - in Hoboken, NJ of all places! - but I got to experience an advance screening of World War Z (2013) last night, and what an experience it was! Visceral Fast, Transformative, Terrifying... This is not the Zombie films of old, but an evolution and a challenge that felt welcome and freaking Fun!
Besides my brother and I, groups of people on either side of us in the theatre had read and loved the novel World War Z by Max Brooks - an amazingly engaging, horrifying post-apocalyptic zombie yarn tucked perfectly into a searing theorization of zombies' socio-political effects. For example, what might North Korea's extreme isolation mean for their response to a zombie holocaust? What about Israel's response - how would a country accustomed to being surrounded by threats respond? For us, the film had a tough task. Films of books have both the potential to remind us why the book was amazing and let us down by failing to provide the same thrill and engagement, especially if they drift too far from their source material.
Fortunately, Brad Pitt's summer tentpole does not let fans down! World War Z is not the same as Max Brooks' novel and some of the differences are fundamental. However, rest assured fellow fans of the novel (especially if you understand/keep in mind that films have different constraints/allowances than books), because with these changes comes a welcome speed and thrill ride aspect that only benefits those expectations. If one is to differ from a film's novel origins, then this is how you do it!
For those who have not read the novel, the film will still please and become a summer film to measure others against. World War Z adds the warm human heart that made the novel stick to the visual zip and grandeur of film to breathe life (*ba-dum-tshh*) into what could have been a long-winded plod, but instead is gripping. With more Yay! than So-so. transferences, the film brings over the novel's tone without getting lost in the subtext. In other words, we have the Walking Dead TV show for our deeply meditative, slow-burn take on human response to zombies, this is a film, and should behave as such.
Beginning with the necessary establishing family moments that make clear who we are rooting for and why, the film wisely does not force us to dwell with Gerry (Brad Pitt), his wife and two daughters in their suburban Philadelphia home for long. Delivering the first jolt a few minutes in, World War Z does not let you rest easy until credits roll. Here zombies are the result of an infection, and as such the dead act as infectious agents with transmission as primary goal. This means we get a zombie populace rendered deeply creepy not simply by their vicious difference from living humans, but by their actions which resemble swarms of insect or animal life; or on a biological level, by actions similar to viral/bacterial contagion within a living host.
Moving between a U.S. Navy flotilla, America, Korea, Israel and Wales, the film's strength lies in a temporal and visual relentlessness that mimics what a real world zombie apocalypse would do to our fragile social/global stability. Yes, one must suspend disbelief as Gerry's U.N. investigator survives one catastrophe/perilous situation after another in his pursuit of a cure for the plague - including a scene on a plane that must be seen to experience the gut-punch of its effect. But the spectacle encourages a welcome suspension of disbelief if my own and the audience's enthused audible responses and applause at the end can be counted.
One of the only things noted by my brother - who said this film easily rivals 28 Days Later - as a surprise is that there was precious little blood for a zombie flick. Yes, World War Z establishes a distinct difference from past zombie fare in both the infection's intent inside of hosts and a difference in transmission-to-zombie time. However, for horror fans weaned on diets of Romero's, Boyle's and other director's bloody good, good and bloody zombie romps, one cannot but feel a slight sense of, well, of being cheated. If an arm is lopped off or a crowbar is embedded in a human skull or any of the body's major veins or arteries is punctured, There Will Be Blood! Yet World War Z is a strangely anemic affair, as if the shipment of red food coloring and corn-syrup intended for filming got sent to Istanbul instead of Israel and they decided to excise it completely as a production element!
In all fairness, the film's omission of blood works narratively to build suspense and tension in more than one instance, and in those cases Marc Forster's decisions have a clear and lovely dramatic heft that sets the film apart from zombie movies less concerned with story and craft than with dumping on fake blood to mask their flaws. But for those horror movie and zombie fans like my brother and myself, it may be a surprise to witness everyone, especially Gerry's U.N. dude, running around with such clean clothes.
I don't want to disclose much more since it is ages until the film actually comes out and I hate spoilers as much if not more than the next person, but suffice it to say thrilling, terrifying and fun are the key words I think of, and that is exactly what you want from a summer zombie popcorn flick.