World War Z (15)
Director: Marc Forster
Running time: 116 minutes
Star rating: * * *
THROW a stiff arm out right now, and chances are you’ll hit a zombie film, yet for a while World War Z, Brad Pitt’s long-gestating action-thriller, seemed a project more dead than undead. Shot, and then reshot, everywhere including Coatbridge and Glasgow’s George Square, it is now the most expensive horror movie ever made and the acrimonious production problems have suggested a picture stumbling blindly towards the DVD bin.
Yet Marc Forster’s film really isn’t bad at all – a chewy, capable, mainstream flick which accommodates both those suffering from zombie fatigue and those who can’t get enough.
At the centre of its activity whirl is Pitt as a former UN investigator who is now a stay-at-home dad cooking pancakes for his wife (Mireille Enos) and two young daughters. Already, however, the credits have nodded heavily to ruder table manners, with footage of wolves tearing at luckless antelopes and ants overpowering a hornet.
The zombies of World War Z also have a pack mentality, sprinting together to take down the living. The first glimpse is a traffic jam in Glasgow, standing in for downtown Philadelphia. George Square’s red tarmac may not be a hallmark of a city of brotherly love, but it turns out to be awfully good at highlighting mobs fleeing in panic from a zombie outbreak.
This film has more in common with Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion than George A Romero’s Day Of The Dead, featuring a plague that causes world order to collapse and operating as a metaphor for everything from epic eco-disaster to thuggish government. The film’s best parts hint at the society that might emerge in such a situation, including the potential economic, political, technological and military implications.
Usually zombie movies are rooted in small communities, but Pitt’s investigator uncovers worldwide responses of escalating toughness. Israel tries to keep the epidemic out by building huge walls. North Korea goes even more low tech – the entire population have their teeth pulled to prevent infectious chewing. There are few signs of heroic emergency government; when Pitt initially refuses to head out and investigate the outbreak, he’s told there will be no room for his family on board the United Nations’ aircraft carrier.
While reluctantly trotting the globe in search of patient zero and a potential cure, familiar faces are glimpsed along the way – John Gordon Sinclair in military uniform, Peter Capaldi in a lab coat and Lost’s Matthew Fox, on screen for about two seconds before phoning his agent to complain about cutting room ruthlessness.
There have been complaints that World War Z doesn’t have enough bite and blood, but there are plenty of images of death and destruction, with zombies head-butting their way into cars and nuclear clouds puffing across the world. Diehards may mourn the lack of entrails but this is more of a suspense movie than a gorefest.
In its chaotic mix of speculative nightmare and action, there are some truly tense moments – the only instance I can recall of zombies in hiding on a plane, or recreating mouse-in-a-maze action in an institute where infected scientists are potentially around every corner.
Overall, there are certainly more things to like about this PG-oriented horror than to dislike. Mind you, it ends with the door open for a sequel; and that’s a fight they may not win. «
On general release from Friday