I don’t normally like zombie movies. I find the slow, shuffling monsters very silly. Then they eat somebody’s face, and the victim screams. Blood gushes everywhere. Not really for me. I was surprised years ago when I enjoyed the original Resident Evil for the PSX. In that game, the zombies were stealthy. The camera angles were creepy. The music was creepy. The action kept me on the edge of my seat.
I think I just described why I liked World War Z so much.
World War Z starts with world-weary former UN investigator, Gerry Lane, and his wife, Karin, in bed with their kids. Soon he’s flipping pancakes, the TV set talks about rabies epidemics all over the world, and everybody is rushing out the door. Within minutes of the movie opening, we are sitting in traffic. This might be a movie about an idyllic adventure in suburbia, except that’s when the zombies attack.
I was very, very impressed with such a quick setup and jump into action without sacrificing depth. We had established that Gerry was looking forward to a domestic life away from the strife of the world, that his family life was normal and healthy, and that there was an epidemic. When the first zombie attacked and Gerry began counting, we soon realized that he was assessing the situation and marking the rapidity of infection by counting the seconds. Gerry may have wanted to leave life as a UN investigator, but that life didn’t want to leave him. This was a theme that occupied the first third of the movie.
The plot was quick paced with breathing spaces for the viewer to catch up with the characters as they tried to figure out what was going on. From pancakes to panic, Gerry used his investigator skills to keep his family alive. As they took refuge with another family, we got to see more of the human side of Gerry, the strength of his relationship with his wife, and the way the plague was affecting other families. When they made their escape with the son of that host family, it was a very painful moment when the kind but skeptical father was the leader of the zombie pack that the soldiers gunned down.
The story moved on to a haven afloat at sea, to Korea as Gerry agreed to work to find patient zero, to Israel, and then to the United Kingdom. There Gerry recovered from his wounds and used himself as a guinea pig to test a theory he had about the zombies.
One of the strengths of the movie was the strong characters. Unlike the book that the movie was based on, the script writers eschewed the patchwork collection of journal entries to focus on the more commercially viable approach of one main character, Gerry, as he interacted with a large cast of intelligent and caring human beings. They stood in stark contrast to the alien, insect-like hive mind of their former friends and family who were now far from human.
The movie avoided gross-out horror and instead focused on terror through suspense. There was a high degree of peril, making Gerry’s survival something left in doubt while the zombie horde seemed plausible and horrifyingly real. World War Z was a clever whodunnit zombie mystery filled with intensity and characters you will care about. I loved it.
Release Date: June 21, 2013 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Language: 2 (s-words and other milder curses)
Violence: 4 (people eating people, then getting fired upon, blown up, and set on fire, extreme peril)