The most feared end of the human civilization is probably through the spread of a disease, an epidemic, in such a rapid fashion that there is not enough time to locate the cure. If this disease was to use humans as hosts, able to control their motor functions, direct them from one location to another to widen its reach, imagine the scale of destruction that lay on the path ahead. The spread of the disease would be at an exponential pace, multiplying from one to two then to four, and so it grows. This is the genesis of the plot for most zombie movies. And while it is a fictional problem as of now, it still is a scary one. World War Z brings this thought process on the big screen again, as the human race battles against a growing infection which is converting humans into zombies at an alarming alacrity and the only way to stop it is to search for a vaccine. Is there one?
World War Z is based on a book by horror author Max Brooks and its rights were acquired by Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B Entertainment in 2007 after a tough battle with Leonardo Di Caprio’s production house. The production of the movie has since then been riddled with quite a few difficulties, its theatrical release being almost two years after shooting had begun. Finally arriving on the big screen after numerous screenwriters had worked on the script at different stages (Matthew Carnahan, Damon Lindelof and Dave Goddard), World War Z narrates the story of former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his fight to search for a vaccine to counter the growing zombie epidemic. While Lane is reluctant to get back on the field, it is the only way to keep his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters safe. His search for the vaccine is not an easy one, which requires him to travel to far off places like South Korea and Israel and battle the growing masses of the undead. While he is helped along the way by local forces, the challenges keep rising for Lane (and so do the zombies), and he is required to bring on his past experience and expertise to take on this formidable challenge. Time is ticking!
Lovers of conventional horror movies, the ones who loved the thrill and gore in Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later, would be disappointed with World War Z. This movie does not have the traditional dark night scenes with the actor turning left and right every few seconds wondering where the next attack would come from. World War Z has a more seriousness to its story, it takes the zombie infection to a global scale, it leads Brad Pitt to unknown terrain in his search for the source of infection. The screenplay compromises somewhat on the ‘zombie thrills’, the scenes with the undead jumping left, right and centre with no thoughts about what happens next but just a lust for fresh meat, are limited. We do still get to see what the visual effects team can create, when a pyramid of zombies try to scale up the walls around Israel (one of the best scenes of the movie), a scene which clearly demonstrates the financing strength that has gone behind the film. But what World War Z turns out to be is more of an action flick where instead of the conventional villains, we have flesh-seeking zombies. Is this a good or a bad thing? That depends on what you are seeking from the movie. The pace of the movie, which scales up and down in a sinusoidal manner giving enough breathing space to the audience, along with well shot action scenes, makes for an entertaining movie by Marc Foster. But there is not much of a horror element here, and for those who can have a hearty meal while watching flicks like Evil Dead, this would be a walk in the park.
Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane provides the human touch to the movie. A highly talented actor, Pitt can easily showcase a range of emotions effortlessly without ever being loud or in-your-face. In World War Z, Pitt is usually required to be either running or fighting or being afraid or seeking solutions, but he also brings forth a family man attribute which makes him all the more endearing on the screen. You root for him, you hope for the best, you do not want him to turn into zombie meat. And that is how Pitt’s performance keeps you hooked to the movie. Mireille Enos has a limited role as the the wife and mother who has to stay back, a role which pales in front of her performance earlier this year in Gangster Squad when she played the tough wife to a tough cop. There is a big supporting cast involved in the movie, to escort Pitt in his search for the cure, and Daniella Kertesz as Segen has the most notable role as a tough but scared officer who sticks with Pitt right till the end. But World War Z is a Brad Pitt film, from beginning to end.
The score of the film by Marco Beltrami has a haunting feel to it which adds to the chills in the movie. Beltrami is no newcomer to this genre, having provided scores for The Resident Evil, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark and The Woman in Black. But it is the beat of the Isolated Systems by English rock band Muse which really brings the movie to life, playing out during the best scenes of the movie and adding to the tension in the movie. It reminds one of the famous Tubular Bells theme in The Exorcist and in itself is something worth hearing (posted right at the end).
The problem World War Z is going to face is the ballooning of its production budget and the timing of its release. The movie was initially budgeted at $125 million but things spiraled out of control and the production budget reached the region of $200 million, making it not only one of the most expensive horror flicks but an expensive film for any genre. With Man of Steel not expected to go anywhere (it could be adding another $60 million this weekend) and competition also from Pixar’s Monsters University (though the target audience would be quite different), recouping the high production costs for World War Z will be a mighty challenge. But irrespective of how it fares, World War Z has scaled up the zombie threat to a new level and hopefully horror movies with bigger production budgets and smarter visual effects would follow suit. Till then, let the undead sleep!
Scenes from World War Z pan out in this video with Isolated Systems by Muse in the background. Haunting!