And I liked it!
First of all, I loved the original book, by Max Brooks. I’d say it’s one of the few books I’ve ever read that actually scared me. Not necessarily the zombie bits, but the descriptions about how society had broken down, and how people had to struggle just to survive on a daily basis, with the very real possibility of death always right around the corner. Thinking about trying to live through that is what terrified me. If there were a zombie apocalypse, I’d almost rather just killed right at the beginning and get it over with.
Anyway, the movie isn’t a straight adaptation of the book, which was primarily a series of interviews with people, 10 years later, talking about their experiences during and after the zombie war. So it’s not really a linear story that fits well to a film adaptation. A more faithful adaptation would be like faux documentary, detailing the fiction zombie outbreak, perhaps with “re-enactments” of events from the outbreak spliced in. And I still think that is a good idea, that I would like to see. But what the filmmakers did here was done very well.
Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former U.N. Inspector who is on a trip with his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos) and two young daughters. As they’re sitting in traffic, suddenly everything goes to Hades. There’s explosions, car-crashes, and everyone is running in different directions. Here, and in other similar scenes throughout the film, the director does a very good job of showing the societal breakdown and how chaotic and confusing everything gets so quickly. You imagine how you would react if everyone just started screaming and running and you didn’t know why. That’s the thing that makes it so frightening, the characters don’t know that it’s a zombie outbreak, it just looks like people going crazy. But we get some quick shots of Gerry’s reactions as he takes in the scene, and notices what’s happening. Eventually, through some of Gerry’s contacts at the U.N., the family are taken by helicopter to a navel fleet in the ocean, where the military is trying to figure out what’s going on. And, again, we see how chaotic everything his, because of how fast the world is falling apart. These particular zombies are fast (unlike in the book, where they’re slow-moving, in the George Romero mold of zombies) but what’s even scarier is how quick the infection spreads. When they bite someone, the person changes into a zombie in 12 seconds, and immediately joins the rampage.
Gerry, reluctantly, is drafted by the military to join a special team to try to travel the world to find out how the virus got started, in hopes of finding a possible cure. He has to go to keep his family save with the fleet. I won’t spoil too much more of this, but Gerry ends up traveling to South Korea, Israel, & the U.K. on his journey to get to the bottom of this. One part I particularly liked is when a MOSSAD agent (played by Ludi Boeken) explains to Gerry why Israel, of all the countries in the world, was the most prepared to deal with the outbreak. He said his job was basically to be the guy who prepared for any possibility, no matter how far-out it sounded. So, when the first mention of “zombies” reached the Israeli government, most didn’t take that seriously, but he did, and helped them prepare for it.
And that’s another thing, this film doesn’t shy away from calling them zombies. They’re not just humans who have gone crazy, ala the creatures in 28 Days Later, it is made clear that they are the undead. When people are bitten, they die and then are reanimated. Yes, it does have many of the typical tropes of these types of big horror and action films. Gerry survives several situations that he probably shouldn’t have, thanks to luck and many convenient coincidences, but that’s to be expected, as he is the hero.
I will also single out actress Daniella Kertesz for praise. She plays an Israeli soldier named Segan, whom Gerry meets in Israel and ends up accompanying him on the rest of his journey. The film ends on a bit of a hopeful note, but it’s not over. So while it’s not a faithful adaptation of the book, it does pretty much serve as a decent prequel to it. They could still make a documentary-style version of the book, taking place after this film. But even ignoring any differences with the book, if I had never read it, I would still enjoy this film just on it’s own merits.
I grade this film:
World War Z is still in theaters now.