Tuesday 23 January 2018

War of the worlds with zombies

Brad and his family face a zombie attack in World War Z
Brad and his family face a zombie attack in World War Z

Paul Whitington

Film of the week: World War Z (15A, general release, 116 minutes) 3 stars

Director: Marc Foster Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, David Morse, James Badge Dale

Given the dreadful  advance word about  Marc Forster and  Brad Pitt's apocalyptic  action  thriller, and ominous reports of  hasty reshoots and rewrites, the  finished product is something of  a pleasant surprise. 

World War Z is a project dear  to Pitt's heart: he went to great  lengths to secure the rights to  Max Brooks' sci-fi novel back in  2007, and has personally driven  this movie from the start. He's  producer and also stars, and  though at first he might seem a  bad fit for a zombie movie, it's  clear why this particular zombie  yarn caught his imagination. 

Brooks' novel describes a global  zombie pandemic, a horrific virus  that spreads like wildfire and may  have been inculcated and abetted  by global warming, environmental  malfunction and chronic overpopulation.  It starts in the east, possibly  in China, and the first thing  Gerry Lane (Pitt) and his family  hear about it is when Philadelphia  is inexplicably attacked. 

Gerry and his wife Karen  (Mireille Enos, star of the US version  of The Killing) are driving  their kids to school one morning  when the traffic grinds to a halt and  people around them begin to panic. 

When their car is attacked by a  rabid man, they slowly realise that  the city is experiencing a plague of  zombies. Those bitten by the creatures  become undead flesh-eaters  themselves within 10 seconds, and  Gerry and his family are lucky to escape the city with their lives.

Gerry is well connected: he's a  former United Nations troubleshooter,  and when he places a  call to his old boss Thierry (Fana  Mokoena), he, his wife and two  kids are airlifted to a US battleship  anchored a hundred miles off  America's eastern seaboard.  They're safe, but their security  comes at a price. 

The zombie plague has spread  across the world: American intelligence  has heard about Gerry's  work in dangerous war zones, and  wants him to travel to South Korea  to find a possible source of the  virus that might prove invaluable  in the hunt for a cure. If he says no,  his family will be unceremoniously  dumped back on the mainland. 

So Gerry goes, first to Korea,  where reports of a ‘patient zero'  turn out to be spurious, thence to  Israel, the world's only zombiefree  state thanks to a high wall  they erected around themselves in  the nick of time. 

Gerry arrives just in time to see  that wall spectacularly breached,  and his search for a cure then takes  him to Wales, of all places, where  a remote research centre may just  provide a clue.

I can imagine some punters turning up to World War Z expecting  a gory zombie-shoot and coming  away disappointed, because  this is a much more serious film  than your average horror yarn.  Brooks' novel is full of political  and environmental metaphors, and  the film blends these with an inyour-  face newsy style that makes  the story seem unsettlingly plausible. 

The opening sequence in which  Philadelphia is attacked is exceedingly  well handled, and drags you  into the centre of the crisis along  with Gerry and his family. 

Unlike most zombie films, World  War Z is more about suspense than  out-and-out action, an approach  exemplified in a clever sequence at  a zombie-infested laboratory where  Gerry realises he may have stumbled  on a way of fighting back. 

That scene is part of a last half  hour that was tacked onto the film after Paramount executives decided  the original cut didn't make  enough sense. It's the weakest part  of the movie, and slowly drains  the story of momentum, but overall  World War Z is an intelligent,  cleverly made and surprisingly  absorbing film.

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