World War Z

If you are avoiding World War Z because you hate zombies, think again. For zombie lovers, yes, the movie is a must-see because it does give prominence to zombies – in this case faceless, nameless, history-less extras, numbering in the CGI millions, who move with lightning speed instead of the usual shuffle we expect, and are destroying the world—but in many ways the zombies are irrelevant. They could just as easily be replaced with vampires, or rabies-infected terrorists. The thrust of the movie is not the zombies themselves, but one man’s search for the source of the zombie infection—not unlike the real-life search for the source of the AIDS virus, that traced its beginnings to African monkeys. The scientific theory, we find out, is that if you can find the source, you’re half way to finding the cure.

One of the epidemic researchers put is more poetically. “Mother Nature is a serial killer. She wants to get caught–she leaves bread crumbs, she leaves clues… Mother nature knows how to disguise her weakness as strength.”

And so our hero, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), A United Nations troubleshooter, is recruited to find where the epidemic started. He remembers to look for “bread crumbs,” in this case it’s the passing notice that some people seem to be invisible to the zombies- why? And another clue—when people are quiet, the zombies can’t find them—it’s noise (the endless cacophony of modern life?) that sets the zombies on their murderous rampage. Another clue—some people who have been attacked by zombies survive–what makes them immune? (I never did find this out.) If you liked Danny Boyle’s terrifying apocalyptic vision of virus survivors in England (28 Days Later , 2002), or the Michael Crichton 1971 classic Andromeda Strain, and the recent race against the clock thriller, Contagion (2011)–you’ll like World War Z and you should see it on the big screen before it disappears.

Gerry Lane and his wife Karin (the underused Mireille Enos from TV’s The Killing) and their two little girls see the zombie pandemic up close when they are caught in the gridlock and devastation that is destroying Philadelphia. If you’ve ever survived an earthquake or the California gas wars, you know how truly scary the disruption of normalcy can be. You smack your head for not listening to your preparedness lifestyle friends because when you get around to storing up bottled water, everyone else is doing the same thing and killing one another to get what they should have gotten long ago. It’s scary, darn it, and it’s not that far from reality.

And that’s what I really liked about this movie. Whether it was fear from terrified human beings or gnarly-toothed zombies, World War Z is genuinely scary. I see many movies that are advertised as scary and they end up being snooze fests — seeing one that really did hit the old fear molecules was great.

In director Mar Forster’s hands (The Kite Runner), the world-wide locations give both story validity and cinematic interest. From Korea, to a fascinating stop in Jerusalem (which everyone thinks has made itself safe from the plague – wishful thinking, alas) and on to remote scientific outposts in Wales, Gerry rushes to find clues for a cure.

Along the way we get some terrific cameos. David Morse is downright nightmarish as a CIA agent, locked up now, who might have known about the cure before torture took his brain cells away. Israeli soldier Deniella Kertesz, who suffers horrific personal damage from a zombie attack, nevertheless rises to the demands of her training and becomes a brave side-kick to Brad Pitt. In a movie that is, as usual, male centric, it’s nice to see at least one female role that proves women can be just as brave as men–even when facing zombies.

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