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Film review: WORLD WAR Z, from Built For Speed

Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies showed that there is something inherently comical about zombie movies.  These films suggested that the sight of actors in bad makeup staggering around and chewing on people’s intestine had become ridiculous and lost its ability to shock.  In that light, Brad Pitt’s latest film World War Z seemed to be courting ridicule with its tale of zombies on the rampage. Surprisingly, this tense, exciting white-knuckle thriller turns out to be one of the best action films of recent times.

After a brief and deceptively sedate introduction to the main character Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family, the film leaps into action mode.  A huge traffic jam in Philadelphia suddenly turns into a scene of mass destruction as hordes of zombies start running amok.  There’s no warning or explanation just chaos.  As a former UN investigator, Gerry and his family have a ticket out of the city but Gerry is soon called on to try and root out the source of the zombie plague.

Director Marc Foster clearly knew what he wanted to create here and that’s a visceral, high energy thrill ride.  The pulse-pounding scenes of Pitt and his family fleeing the zombies through crowded chaotic streets and dark, abandoned buildings are terrific.

The film cleverly mixes large scale panoramas of destruction such as burning cities with intimate close quarter action and pop-out scares. Best of all, though, are the scenes of zombies swarming in their thousands like one massive unstoppable beast desperate to chomp on the living. The film also creates a sense of global catastrophe as it leaps from the US to South Korea, Israel and Britain.  The sequence in which zombies run riot through the ancient city of Jerusalem is remarkable.

One of the advantages of the zombie film is that it provides a unique hybrid of two disaster movie subgenres: the invasion film and the pandemic film. If done well, as it is here, the zombie film can have all the thrills of a war movie as well as the intrigue of a medical drama.

It’s only in those brief moments when the film slows down and the characters try to take stock of the situation that the silliness of the zombie apocalypse concept and the goofiness of Brad Pitt’s Jeff Spicoli-like performance are exposed.  Pitt’s sufficiently sympathetic and physical in the role but it’s not his finest dramatic display and the sub-plot surrounding his separation from his family doesn’t have quite the emotional impact it should.  The film also contains some jarring product placement and one laughable scene aboard a plane where rampaging zombies appear to observe the demarcation between economy and business class.

Any doubts about the film are quickly obliterated, though, as another wild-eyed zombie head-butts its way through a window and gorges on some hapless victim. Like its zombie cousin Warm Bodies,   World War Z is a one of the year’s best surprises.

 

Nick’s rating: Four stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Marc Forster.

Release date: 20th June 2013.

Running time: 116 mins.

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