After all the well-documented production problems surrounding the adaptation of Max Brooks’ best-selling zombie novel, including extensive rewrites and weeks worth of reshoots, here’s something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to say: World War Z is a damn good movie. Far from a perfect feature, but Brad Pitt, Marc Forster, and company, didn’t do too bad. It’s nothing like the book—Brooks was right to call it an adaptation in name only—but if you can get past that fact, the film is surprisingly effective hybrid of action and horror.
Zombie purists—a group I generally count myself among—have issue with the modern trend of fast zombies, undead corpses that can run at full speed. My argument has always been that slow zombies are scary despite the fact that they can’t chase you down in a straight foot race. They’re frightening because of inherent inevitability. You get tired, you run out of food and bullets, you have emotions to screw things up. They don’t have any of that baggage, they just keep coming. Zombies are a force of nature, like a creeping glacier you can’t do anything about. You can chip away a piece here and there, but that’s only a band-aid, a stopgap. There are instances where fast zombies have been effective, 28 Days Later and Zombieland come to mind, but this gradual unavoidability is one of the chief elements that draws me towards the genre.
World War Z plays the best-of-both-worlds game and actually pulls it off, using fast zombies as well as they ever have been. The film explicitly states that these creatures are the spawn of mother nature. Mother nature is also referred to a brutally proficient serial killer, by the way. Watching an overhead shot of a horde of zombie pouring into an open space is like watching water move, filling every available space, backing up when the tide comes to a bottleneck. You can’t help but be reminded of footage of flash floods or a tsunami. From a far away vantage point it looks like no big deal, until the true destructive force becomes clear, and you witness the ruination of everything in its path. In the film these images are harrowing because they feel very real.