Category: Deadly Disasters


WorldWarZ-1

(A quick aside before my actual review: I watched this film Thursday night with my dad. We didn’t get home until after midnight. I worked Friday until 2 AM, and then today I went to see Monsters University with my sister which I will also be hopefully reviewing today. The moral of this story is that my brain is at least minorly fractured. Hopefully, these two reviews make sense)

After the dark and crushing ending to 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, there is one theme  that seems to have held constant across the entirety of the zombie genre of horror. The zombie curse becomes an allegory for humanity’s existential dread and our own certain knowledge that one day soon, something will wipe us out. There is a rotting, hope-sucking fatalism at the heart of all great zombie films and even in the lightest moments in the best zombie works, you always know in the back of your head that any minor victories will only lead to the most tragic fall later. So, when World War Z trades in the usual stark damnation of the zombie genre for actual, legitimate hope, it is only one of many signs that this particular zombie film lacks any teeth.

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Perhaps it’s the film’s PG-13 rating and (more likely) perhaps it’s the film’s obvious and pathetic attempts to appeal to a mainstream summer blockbuster audience, but from beginning to end, World War Z turns the zombie apocalypse into a sterile, market-tested crowd pleaser that isn’t nearly as fun (or terrifying) as it wants itself to be. World War Z has individual set pieces that are a legitimate rush (a moment in a crowded plane stands out for sheer inspiration), but with emotionally wooden characters, mostly ineffective performances, and literally no sense of stakes in the outcomes of these characters, World War Z falls prey to most of the bad parts of zombie films without any of the gore-ridden excess or social commentary that makes the best Romero pictures so fun.

Gerry Lane (The Assassination of Jesse James‘s Brad Pitt) is a former U.N. investigator who finds himself caught in the middle of a mysterious infection that is turning humanity into murderous, suicidal shells whose only purpose is to continue spreading their infection. Gerry’s family is with him when the infection breaks loose in Philadelphia (and the rest of the world) and though Gerry and his family are able to escape to a UN battleship in the Atlantic ocean, the price for Gerry’s family’s spot on that boat is Gerry returning to field duty and helping to discover the cause of the zombie outbreak before it’s too late to save humanity. And, thus, Gerry is sent on a trip around the world from Korea to Israel to Wales as he searches for answers and for a cure.

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Even more than the fact that World War Z trades in zombie ultra-violence for confusing and schizophrenic editing (in a vein similar to but not as well-exectued as The Hunger Games film), this movie is plagued by a lack of a reason to care. Having watched post-apocalyptic films for decades now, writers and directors have to provide more than the potential extermination of humanity to garner an audience’s sympathies, and World War Z fails there on every possible front. The film adopts an episodic approach to it’s storytelling (keeping in line with its summer blockbuster lineage as opposed to traditional zombie archetypes), and in the downtime between set pieces, the writers fail again and again to develop its characters enough to generate even the most marginal interest in these figures as anything more than plot devices.

Brad Pitt is serviceable in the role of Gerry. But, considering that I think Brad Pitt is one of Hollywood’s most talent and consistently intriguing A-listers (just watch Killing Them Softly and tell me I’m wrong), serviceable is not enough. Pitt gives the distinct impression the entire film that he’s only here to pick up a paycheck, and during what is supposed to be one of the film’s most emotional moments during the movie’s end, Pitt doesn’t sell the uncertainty and despair that must have been rocking through Gerry at that moment. None of the performances make much of an impression although Mireille Enos’s turn as Gerry’s wife was interesting enough that I’d like to keep an eye on this new talent.

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I hope that I haven’t given the impression that I totally hated this movie because I didn’t. When the actual action is taking place (and let there be no question, World War Z is an action movie that happens to feature zombies), it is fast-paced and exciting, and it has several moments that are just buzzing with energy and innovation. A scene where zombies make their way onto a crowded plane is the best of the bunch (and prominently featured in the trailers), but other moments like an escape from an airport and the breaching of the walls of Israel have real verve and pleasure. Sadly there isn’t enough tying these moments together.

If you like real zombie movies of the Romero variety (even the cheesier ones like Diary of the Dead), you will probably find yourself disappointed by World War Z because it lacks practically all of the hallmarks of zombie cinema. And if you’re a fan of summer blockbusters of the Rolan Emmerich variety (i.e. Independence Day), you may still find yourself thinking that World War Z is wanting in some vague aspect. At the end of the day, the film gets the job done with its action-fueled moments, but it doesn’t accomplish nearly enough for just how dead and lifeless this film feels (pun about half-intended).

Final Score: C+

 

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 I haven’t reviewed all that many horror movies for this list. As a matter of fact, I think I’ve only actually reviewed two, Let the Right One In and Night of the Living Dead. There’s a reason for that though. A) Horror movies aren’t the kind of things that are nominated for major industry awards which is how most of the movies that are on this list got there. Also B) I just don’t like horror movies all that much. There are some that I think are great, but they are by far the exception. The movie I just watched, 2007’s George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, was not actually on my list, but it happened to be on Cinemax, and I sat down and watched it. Romero is one of the only real auteurs working in the horror medium. This might not be the classic that Night of the Living Dead or the original Dawn of the Dead was, but it was still a pretty interesting take on the zombie picture.

Diary of the Dead is the story of a group of college students who are out in the woods shooting their own low-budget student horror film. Unbeknownst (at first anyways) to the students making the film, the outside world is literally going to hell because the classic zombie apocalypse scenario is beginning. The basic conceit of the film is that it is a documentary captured live on film by one of the college students once they realize what is happening and that this is the footage that they have left behind. I’m a big fan of hand-held camera movies like Cloverfield so I liked that part of it. It makes the movie more immersive. So, the film chronicles the students attempts to survive the zombie apocalypse. The story might not be all that original, but I’ll get to the social commentary in a second which is what always sets Romero films apart.

George A. Romero has always stood head and shoulder above his fellow zombie movie peers by having his films be full of some sort of social commentary or another. Dawn of the Dead is the most obvious example with its stance on rampant consumerism. Thankfully, Diary of the Dead is no exception. It explores the relationship between horror films and the voyeurism of said films and our inevitable desensitization to violence and death. It also asks whether it is good that journalists and documentarians are distant and cold to that which they study if it means that are disconnected from the reality around them. The subject isn’t handled with any real subtlety as is there is a lot of narration exactly explaining the feelings you’re supposed to get from the film, but any horror movie with a message is worth something.

I liked it. It wasn’t a great movie, but for a film that I hadn’t actually intended on sitting all the way through, I ended up watching the whole thing. Since it wasn’t on my list, I could have easily turned it off and put my current obsession in my PS3, the video game L.A. Noire, but Diary of the Dead kept my attention. If you like horror movies and especially zombie films, you should check this one out. I would say that it was better than Romero’s most recent picture before this one, Land of the Dead, but not nearly as good as his original stuff.

 Final Score: B