Review: World War Z (The Consequences of Zombie Overdose)


The problem with zombies is they’re so overused we can’t see them as tropes anymore: by now they only exist as metaphors, and playing with that facet may be the last means a filmmaker has of producing a unique apocalyptic monster. I loved Chuck Klosterman’s NYT OpEd on TV's The Walking Dead. He describes fighting off zombies as a repetitive task, like emptying your inbox or any other semi-mindless chore that, if neglected, threatens to overtake you. And for as perfect and spiritually accurate as that reading seems for any zombiepocalypse, World War Z may buck that notion—the problem for Z is broader, and zombie overuse is to blame.

Like The Happening, World War Z begins with the suggestion that Mother Nature likes to clean house. For the human population, this means stunningly abrupt cannibalism. I should specify—no one eats anyone else here. Unlike other zombies, these guys aren’t literal cannibals, they’re just traumatically undead bodies seeking to infect others with no evident means of survival thereafter. They’re abominations but they leave you nothing to ruminate over—there is no “Oh my god, that little girl ate her mother” horror—though you might find the realization we're all dying to become fertilizer is disturbing. If Brad Pitt weren’t the star, World War Z might be about the starvation of the frenzied human race. As Z’s resident expert explains, ‘Mother Nature is a bitch.’

And when I say frenzied—wow do I mean it. The speed Danny Boyle applied to the infected semi-dead in 28 Days Later is a pub-crawl compared to Marc Forester’s feat of “anything you can do I can do faster” British one-upsmanship. World War Z presumes you know what you’re in for, and so dispenses with any context, at all. This is for zombie movies what Reddit is for news: nothing contextualizes, there is no effort to orient viewers, credible sources and whackjobs dispense equally implausible information about a world event you can only verify with experience. Everything bangs up against everything else, which makes it pretty believable, as zombie apocalypses go. You need to know a lot to follow World War Z because it offers you no time to get acquainted with its rules, and you better learn fast because The End is here. And if I remember anything from The X-Files Movie it’s that the end was under our feet this whole time.

So what’s there to ground us—now that we know the ground is only there for show? Brad Pitt is it. And just as The Changeling gave sex symbol Anjelina Jolie an open door to play a mother in iconic and perpetual suffering, World War Z makes her real-world husband into the messianic family man warrior. He is Odysseus to her Penelope. Pit plays an ex-UN officer previously sent into distant lands to find an outbreak’s patient zero or uncover the source of disruption to Horseshitistan’s* status quo. Now retired, he’s Philadelphia’s hottest house husband.

The morning commute is stiff when Pitt and family leave for an otherwise drab day. That’s when buildings spontaneously combust, motorcycle cops knock side view mirrors off cars and after a stony sounding rumble, people start landing on windshields (for a moment I scanned the sky for tripods). But the bodies are mobile and bitey—the biting, by the way, eventually becomes the film’s only comic relief and for a movie that moves at break neck speed for 2+hours that humor isn’t enough to help you catch your breath. Much as I appreciated it, I left the film exhausted, which is pretty much how I feel when I open the Reddit home page and get slapped in the face with innumerable unknown websites and thunder-striking headlines. That zombie Forester’s camera smacked in the face? That's me. And I still have a bruise.

*Horseshitistan should be credited to Alejandro Adams. I only wish I'd made it up.

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About Sara Vizcarrondo

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Sara Vizcarrondo is a freelance film critic out of San Francisco. She runs Opening Movies at Rottentomatoes, teaches film/media studies at DeAnza college and writes on film for Popdose and The SF Bay Guardian.

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