World War Z in brief

by Arran James

Obviously nothing like the brilliant and inventive book, on which it trades whilst having only the most cursory nods to. The film follows a UN Inspector (state neutrality=good guy) around the world as a rabis-like virus spreads to all the plebs (the important people- ie. people necessary to the functioning of the state/UN- are all safe). We get great shots of cities being overrun by zombie hordes but it all feels a little like insurrection-paranoia: a hatred of democracy. “Look, all these uprisings and protests- from the Arab Spring across the globe up to Turkey and Brazil- it’s all just a rabble foaming at the mouth”. Israel’s security wall- now completed and huge- is set up as a kind of genius safety device, stemming the tide of infection and protecting masses of people (Jews and Muslim Arabs even sing together about how wonderful it is to be safe behind this merciful siege-city).

As well as this common, but here hyperbolic, identification of the horde with civil unrest, there are also indications that the virus carried by these undead is a kind of nature’s revenge. Yet, while some people invoke this as Gaia’s just quest to cleanse the Earth of homo rapiens and/or to return to a fundamental balance (or as Lovelock has it, as a byproduct of an immune response), here we are treated to a virologist simply intoning that “Nature is a bitch”. It isn’t humanity that is the problem,it is nature itself that is evil. This is left hanging in the air, never to be touched on again. Perhaps it remains constant in the identification of Pitt’s character as a UN investigator who was witness to genocides and other “crimes against humanity”. The implication would thus be that nature itself is to be held accountable for the sins of one of its creatures. The nature and culture distinction is thus maintained, acquitting us from having to examine our own lives from an ecological perspective.

They’ve given Brad Pitt’s character a superfluous family (the film opens on establishing their idyllic middle class existence) who don’t really provide an emotional core for the character, nor are they ever put into any real jeopardy. I can only conclude that the family’s presence is to indicate that Pitt is not one of this insane and undead horde. The scale of the film indicates to us that we’re watching the collapse of civilisation, and there is a genuine thrill to be had from this…but, without ruining the end let me say this is an uncharacteristically optimistic film at the level of plot. On a more direct ideological level it is less so. Scenes of devastation (which appear to be news footage) accompany Pitt’s closing voice-over.

Directed at the audience, it tells us “the war has only just begun”, and that “we need to look after each other”… this is the only really chilling moment, as it invokes a number of vague fears about the end of the world and the collapse of civilisation… it is as if Brad Pitt, now shedding his role and speaking in his own voice, is warning us to be ready for nightmares on the horizon and to ready our survivalist skills, supplies and solidarity networks. While the story has far to clean a solution, the real end of the film is vaguely threatening and certainly, to repeat myself, chilling.

In genre terms, this film is so EPIC and ADRENALIN SOAKED and other MOVIE REVIEW TROPES that I don’t think it could make any list of “best horror films of 2013” or what have you, as the Resident Evil series manages to. This is an out and out action film with the contrivance that the hero is a man of words (a UN investigator who uses his interview skills and quick wittedness to try to save the world). Much is made of him distinguishing himself from Marine (“they are hammers, and to a hammer everything looks like a nail”) but also from his non-expertise (he constantly relies on scientists and techno-scientific fixes). Alongside the suburban family, our hero is your average American cognitarian. Why is it that the action hero has gone from being the wise-ass, over-sexed, macho man to this soft, tender, loving, family man who is able to do everything the wise-ass can when the time calls? Boring answers on a boring postcard.

There is more to say but as the film is only recently out it would be a spoiler filled time to go on. Let’s just say that its mildly interesting as a symptom, decent if all you want to do is see zombies get murdered, and awful if you’re looking for any psychological/suspense horror. In the end, with its heavy-handed final plot device, its also an awfully patronising film. But hey…if you can ignore all that…