When the end of the world is nigh, it’s always a good sign when your audience needs to share a nervous laugh.
Such was the case at my screening of WorldWar Z; the Brad Pitt vs. zombie apocalypse that is set to ravage screens across the globe. It was during one of the quiet, tautly tense moments that director Marc Forster creates so well, when someone in the audience tipped over a glass and shrieks of shock rippled through the crowd, followed by communal sheepish laughter.
It’s striking in film of such CGI-slathered, catastrophic spectacle that Forster and his producer/star Pitt are able to carve out moments of spooky calm. And this balance, of epic and intimate thrills creates some nightmarishly good moments of cinema.
The film is being spruiked far more as a ‘global pandemic’ drama than zombie thriller (one wonders what marketing stats drove that decision), so allow me to summarise it thusly: Pitt plays adoring father and recently decommissioned United Nations investigator Gerry Lane, a man who we glean has been in some pretty hairy situations around the world. So crucially hairy in fact, that he and his family are among the precious few airlifted to safety once the pandemic hits, in order for Gerry to be put straight into action figuring out what in zombie hell is going on.
Gerry’s investigation takes him to North Korea, Israel and, after a particularly horrific plane ride – it turns out zombies totally trump snakes on a plane - to a World Health Organisation site in Wales. Meanwhile, the global population is succumbing to the 12-second epileptic seizure-esque transformation into snarling, head-butting, kamikaze-rabid zombies. The head-butting is shown to particularly creepy effect; is it just me or is the idea of someone repeatedly slamming their noggin into a wall a brutally efficient way of evincing monstrosity?
Say what you will about the film’s budget blow out or the
complete rewrite artistic license taken with Max
Brooks’ oral history novel, World War Z
makes for a thrilling trip to the cinema. Sure, the frequent status updates on
Gerry’s family feel a little hokey, and despite the film’s stylistic
verisimilitude, the decision to keep the action more family-friendly means World War Z never quite achieves the
nihilistic heights of the analogous Children
of Men. But Pitt bridges the divide commendably well. Gerry’s phone calls
to his stoic wife (Mireille Enos) are as emotionally charged as his demeanor is
cool, calm and collected under fire. It’s a potent combination - the family man
and the soldier - and Pitt’s effortless command of the screen is in full
So too are the skills of director Marc Forster: the filmmaking chameleon who has brought us the eclectic array of titles including Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction and Quantum of Solace. His vision for a ‘tsunami of zombies’ is terrifying to behold – especially in 3D – though it is his deftness at weaving the aforementioned quiet moments of tension that elevates World War Z above the mire of mindless CGI to craft scenes that leave you white-knuckling the edge of your seat. It’s also interesting the see Forster include brief glimpses of artworks and the US Constitution being salvaged; the broader ramifications of apocalypse have a chance to hit home in the face of such detail.
Six years in the making, World War Z might have almost missed the boat on the cultural zombie craze, but it does deliver a highly entertaining dose of big screen carnage, all set to a suitably portentous soundtrack by Muse. Throw Brad Pitt’s flowing locks into the mix and the apocalypse has never looked so good.
Australian release date: 20 June 2013