dir: Marc Forster
I wonder if there is anyone on the planet not sick of zombies as yet.
We, and I’m speaking on behalf of all of cinema-going humanity here, are even more sick of zombies than we are of vampires. I am so sick of vampires and zombies that I generally avoid new movies with them even if people I really like are in them, and I hear that they’re good films. I’m sick of them all, and I can’t be summoning the energy and time to watch them and review them, I just can't do it.
Except for this one. Come on, I was curious.
I have read the book this is based on (another reason for my undead care-factor fatigue), but the film has about as much to do with the book as any other flick about zombies has to do with the book: they’ve both got zombies in them, and that’s about it.
Out of the dry reportage of the novel comes a story with an allegedly relatable hero (Brad Pitt, as if any mere mortal men can relate to him) and a story at a scale we can grasp despite it being about a global epidemic of flesh-chomping. It’s the right approach, I guess. They also have to make it even more relatable by making the main guy motivated to find a solution to the zombie apocalypse by his having a redheaded wife and redheaded children: so if he doesn’t find a ‘cure’ or whatever, not only will everyone die, but some redheads too!
I guess it’s an extra kick, as if, you know, without the personal dimension, well, he just would have thought “Fuck it, can’t be bothered saving the world today, maybe I’ll get right on it tomorrow, or maybe the day after, since little Rachel has swimming practice and Connie has the sniffles” and spent the rest of the flick with his feet up in a hammock drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Brad Pitt plays possibly the most unlikely character he’s ever played, being some kind of former United Nations investigator who’s good at investigating things, or so they say. I mean, he couldn’t have that much experience investigating zombie apocalypses, since this is the first one, as far as we know. Maybe he’s watched all three seasons of The Walking Dead, and read all the books, and knows the works of George Romero inside out? Maybe that would make him eminently essential right now?
The military / UN / bureaucrats left, once most of the world has already been chomped on, manipulate Gerry into finding out how to stop this “thing”, whatever this “thing” is, by holding his family ransom. They actually say something like, “Do what the hell we say, or we’re going to kill your family by kicking them out of sanctuary.”
I’m all for managing by example, or motivating people to get the best results, considering my extensive experience with being a manager, but someone threatening my family in that manner because of a zombie apocalypse would have more to worry about from me than the zombies. It would make me want to side with the goddamn zombies, that’s for sure.
Gerry (Pitt) embarks upon a globetrotting journey, in an era where getting around is pretty difficult because of all the very fast moving zombies, in order to track down the origin of the outbreak. See, we think it’s a zombie action film, but we’re the fools, because it’s really an Outbreak film, as in, a film where there’s too many monkeys and not enough Dustin Hoffmans.
In many ways, ones that may affect your enjoyment either way, it skips around many of the standard zombie action flick tropes and relies more on the tropes of epidemic flicks. But then it pulls another trick along the way to the end that comes straight out of what I like to call the Morgan Freeman Voiceover basket (it has nothing to do with voiceovers), where the solution seems to be something so simple and ever present, all part of God’s great plan, which could be so trite that it makes you want to punch a basket full of kittens in the face.
Might, I said, not will, but might.
It’s impossible for me to watch a fast zombie film and not think of pretty much the only good fast zombie flick, being 28 Days Later. True, 28 Days Later might just have been the greatest just because of the Mogwai soundtrack, the shots of a deserted London and the slick, sick direction of Danny Boyle (sorry, Oscar Award-Winning Director Danny Boyle), but it made the focus of the whole film rest not upon the actions or the threat of the Infected, but on the actions of the humans left behind, and what they now feel free to do upon each other.
There’s only a smidgen of that here. Major difference as well here being that the setup, for our purposes, beginning in America shows, in the first five minutes of the flick, the American public turning into rampaging, riotous, murderous gun-totting rapists the second something seems to go wrong. The Brits, however ruthless, looked after each other. Must be that Keep Calm and Carry a Machete spirit of the Blitz coming through.
The power goes out and it’s on for young and old, in the States, on the other hand. They lose their internet connectivity and start murdering their neighbours for the spare change in their pockets and the unchewed peanuts in their mouths! It never ceases to amaze me as to how little faith American screenwriters have in the capacity of their fellow Americans to deal with any adversity in a calm or compassionate manner.
Gerry’s not like that, though. To him, because he’s investigated massacres and war crimes / human rights abuses, the threat of the zombies isn’t that much more daunting that the threat of child armies and civil wars, which are awful enough. So he, leading by example, tries to exhibit compassion along the way, saving who he can while defending his family first. You know, the way decent people do.
Some of these action sequences, in a flick that isn’t overflowing with them, are so chaotically shot and edited that they are the visual equivalent of a migraine. There were times I just closed my eyes and waited for the frenetic camerawork to be over before opening my eyes again and attempting to figure out what had happened by who was left alive.
This is not a big action flick. I’m sure it cost hundreds of millions to make, but it’s scaled down in some odd ways, perhaps because they ran out of money or the desire to keep going. It really feels like they were going to make it look like the end of The Avengers at some stage, but then someone wise decided “Nah, let’s go small”. I’m not going to credit Brad Pitt with anything close to wisdom , but considering his involvement on the production side of this flick, it’s possible he stepped up, bit the bullet, and said, “Okay guys, let’s make the ending all about me saving the world in a really chilled manner.”
And I don’t fault him for that, or pretty much anything else he does in the rest of the flick. Many of Pitt’s performances have irritated or outright annoyed me in many of his other flicks, but he was decent and not aggravating here. He’s mostly just flying around the world, chatting to people in a subdued manner, and killing zombies when he has to, but he does a good job shouldering the immense burden of carrying such a tired and overly familiar premise.
On his travels he gets to visit zombie-infested South Korea, Israel, and Wales, making this probably the most anti-James Bond-like travelogue thus committed to film. To make it even more downmarket, maybe they should have had him go to Adelaide, Stuttgart, Detroit and Slough.
In Israel, in a strange choice that really works for the film, he saves the life of a young Israeli soldier with a very radical intervention, and they form an unlikely bond. I couldn’t tell you that much more about her other than her name, being Segen (Daniella Kertesz), and her shaved head, but her strange presence adds something to the flick, especially with the affection (father-daughter type, you pervs, get your minds out of the gutter) they show each other in times of overwhelming horror.
Together they get involved in what is probably the best action scene of the flick, onboard a plane fleeing the carnage. I’m not talking about what follows, I mean the scene where someone dresses someone’s wound while pouring vodka from those little plastic bottles all over the place. Yeah, real sterile, that. Why not use what’s in the medkit instead?
Much has been made of the toned down nature of the movie, in that for some people it wasn’t bloody enough, a PG-13 rating robbing it of the seriousness and gore it probably deserved. I don’t really think it would have added that much had it been more violent. It was plenty frenetic and horrifying when it wanted to be. I find these hideous creatures horrifying, sure, but to me they could be anything. Whether they’re zombies or mutants or vampires or monkeys or aliens or angry ponies, it’s all the same crap to me. I care not one whit about them, and whether they’re a credible threat or not, but about whether I’m interested in seeing the good guys triumph.
I won’t say I cared by the end of the flick, with its pat ending and comfortable ease with which it resolves things, but I didn’t want the zombies to win by the end of it, so that has to count for something.
7 times it’s hard to watch the zombies scrambling up the new Wailing Wall without thinking of current Israeli-Palestinian relations out of 10
“Most people don't believe something can happen until it already has. That's not stupidity or weakness, that's just human nature.” – it’s also the reason every film looks and sounds like every other film as well – World War Z.