Zombies: What they say about our teeming world

Zombies: What they say about our teeming world

World War Z
English (U/A) ¬¬¬¬
Cast: Brad Pitt, Daniella Kertesz, Mireille Enos
Director: Marc Forster

If vampirism as a genre of horror is really about sex and style, where does zombiesm stand?
Created from Caribbean legend and voodoo priests who sought to exercise a power (albeit illusory) over life and death, the zombie genre has been effectively hijacked by western culture and Hollywood since the 1960s. At the last count, there have been 610 films about the walking dead, with dozens more joining the list each year — many by independent filmmakers hoping for that next big hit. Considering this overkill of the genre, was it really necessary to make another film about the delightfully slobbering undead?

Yes, if German director Marc Forster’s latest film World War Z is to be believed. The film stars Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations conflict-zone troubleshooter, who with his terrified family, witnesses the outbreak of a potent new virus in Philadelphia. Even as the virus consumes the city, turning people into reanimated automatons, Lane and his family are evacuated by a UN helicopter sent by Lane’s old boss, Thierry (Fana Mokoena).

Moved to an off-shore fleet of ships shepherding as many people as possible before the world is overrun, Lane is persuaded to depart with a task force to identify the virus’ origins. The force heads for a desolate US Army encampment in South Korea, responsible for transmitting the first reports of a zombie-like infestation. What follows is a gripping sequence of events, even as Pitt and his dwindling team hop from one continent to the next, one step ahead of certain death, on the trail of the source.

The film — based on author Max Brooks’ book of the same name — is more an intelligent, pandemic thriller than a horror film. Pitt is more the Simon Wiesenthal of the zombie apocalypse, than a victim. But any film about zombies is inherently a statement against humanity, and our teeming masses. Zombies are us and their destruction contributes to the reduction of the crowd, because every zombie film ultimately boils down to one thing — a cinematic “turkey shoot”, a wholesale slaughter.

World War Z will go down as a finely crafted thriller, using zombies as a plot gimmick. If it had any lower production values, it would be a farce, but with Forster’s deft direction, coupled with completely believable performances by Brad Pitt and Daniella Kertesz as Segen, a young Israeli Army conscript, the story’s absurd premise is overshadowed by its intriguing execution. This is an apocalypse which seems wholly plausible, even when we see the chinks in its logic.

The zombies in the film may be a far cry from the dead of Vincent Price’s seminal The Last Man on Earth (1964) which popularised the genre. In that film, the zombies knew Price’s name and where he lived. World War Z is instead about the near-destruction of  humankind. Not a pretty sight and not suitable for young children, although teens and adults will find it wholly entertaining.

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