A supremely well designed film, WWZ reenergises the screen zombie genre with a compelling, creepy take on how the world might face its end: not with a bang or a whimper, but with the calm sound of Brad Pitt outsmarting the voracious undead.
A stunning opening sequence sets up an apocalyptic virus on the rampage across the globe, finding its breathlessly violent way into the family car of Gerry Lane (Pitt), wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). As the inhabitants of Philadelphia panic and then turn spectacularly into a rabid swarm of zombies all around them, Gerry is guided by former employer and UN official Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) to a rooftop helicopter. Gerry thinks it’s a favour for all the work he’s done as an investigator in difficult war zones over the years, but quickly discovers he must lead a medical mission back into the danger. Along with a small group of Navy SEALS and a leading immunologist he has to leave his loved ones, head for ground zero and find the antidote to the ferocious plague.
Based on the novel by Max Brooks, the film went through a handful of writers and an ending change after initial filming took place. Despite this, the final screen story is gripping – a series of tight and superbly executed action sequences dominating the narrative, each separated by the emotional intimacy that comes from the family separation sub-plot. That the finished film survived the troubled development process is testament to both Pitt’s resolve as producer, and director Marc Foster’s deft hand at maintaining the tension in the action sequences and keeping the story driving relentlessly to its perhaps inevitable conclusion.
Gone are the slowly stumbling zombies of earlier generations, replaced by a frantic horde who dive, tackle and bite like a snarling biblical horde of rats, a mass of bodies that wail and gnash teeth, thrashing insatiably in search of human flesh. And although plenty are slaughtered by Pitt and company, the gory details are spared, Foster wisely playing this as thriller rather than splatter. With all the action, there’s little time for character development or heart, but Pitt holds his own as an hero with a mission to save the world. And given what he goes through, it’s just as well he’s more indestructible than the average zombie.