Loder: ‘World War Z’: Zombie Apocalypse Now
“World War Z” is a real surprise. The movie’s release was preceded by tales of extensive script-whacking and panicky reshooting. But however desperate these measures may have been, they now seem justified; the picture flows smoothly from one sensational set-piece sequence to the next. It’s unremittingly tense and often very scary. It is a full-on zombie movie, but it’s one that relies less on the usual gut-slurping gore and more on the gathering dread of a plausible apocalypse for its horrifying effect. It rises above its genre.
There also have been early grumblings about the film’s lack of strict fidelity to its source, the 2006 novel by Max Brooks. But this was unavoidable. The book is constructed as a long series of interviews with survivors of a worldwide zombie plague, which nearly wiped out human life. There is no central protagonist to provide a narrative through-line, which is something a big, mainstream movie naturally requires. (The picture reportedly cost $200 million or more to make.) There was also no way to cram in all of the book’s themes of cultural and governmental insufficiency in a way that would cause a mass audience to be willing to sit through it. (“WWZ” runs just under two hours. Three cheers.)
So now we have a hero and a more concise story. The movie’s focus is on Gerry Lane (effortlessly charismatic Brad Pitt), a former United Nations human rights investigator who has thrown aside his career as a traveler through the world’s hellholes in favor of a more gratifying life in Philadelphia with his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos of the AMC series “The Killing”), and their two small daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove). Director Marc Forster quickly sketches Gerry’s warm domestic contentment with an opening scene in the family kitchen. But then the movie gets right down to business. Gerry is driving Karin and the girls through town, when traffic suddenly comes to a halt. There’s an explosion down the street, and within moments, a stream of terrified people is coursing through the lanes of idling cars. We don’t see the cause of this chaos very clearly at first. Then Gerry observes a man being attacked by a rampaging figure; the man falls to the ground, twitches and twists, and then rises to his feet, dead but hideously alive. His transformation, Gerry coolly notes, took exactly 12 seconds.
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