When I was a small child (small enough to crawl underneath a movie theater seat) my parents, not having the extra cash for a baby-sitter, made my sister and I go to the movies with them. My sister was seven years older than I was, and she had a much better sense of what was real, and what was simply make-believe. War movies, alien invasion movies, ghost movies, horror movies -- they all scared the living tar out of me, and I "watched" them curled into a foetal ball in the movie seat, under it, or on my father's chest.
Later on, my parents compromised a bit, and we went to see scary stuff at the drive-in, where my sister and I could stretch out in the back of the station wagon and go to sleep or put pillows over our heads: it gave Jan and me a bit of defense that way, just as we could get up from in front of the TV when Thriller Theater was playing, and go to the kitchen or to our bedroom if whatever was playing was creeping us out.
This pattern followed me the rest of my life. Anything that might be really scary, I'd wait for the video or DVD to come out. Looking through all the titles of the movie reviews that Bernie and I have done, not one of them is scary. In fact, the last "scary" film I saw in a theater was the 1979 film, Alien, and I didn't know it would be scary until the tar was once more scared out of me.
So why would I want to go see a zombie movie, when the trailers that I had seen creeped me out in advance? I blame the big CGI scenes we were given glimpses of in 'Coming Attractions' earlier in the year. Some things you just want to see on a big screen, and World War Z and its zombie apocalypse was one of them.
Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a retired UN investigator, is loving his home life with his wife and two daughters, when random news clips about a rabies-like virus outbreak, CDC teams being sent to various places, and evacuations suddenly cascade into his life, sending his family frantically fleeing a crazed horde of monstrously diseased virus victims.
Now see, a virus is not a parasite. A parasite has a reason not to kill its host, because its survival depends on having a host. A parasite dies after it gets too greedy, and wears out the host. That stops that particular parasite. A virus has no other raison d'etre than to replicate. World War Z is a battle against time, and the virus' overwhelming urge to replicate itself as quickly as possible, like a cold spread by coughs and sneezing and unwashed hands, that runs through an entire town. But unlike a cold or flu, instead of days of incubation, this virus is fast. Lane watches as a man is bitten, and twelve seconds later is ... one of Them. The diseased. The infected. The zombies.
Fortunately he still has connections in high places, and he and his family are extracted from their dire dilemma. What's left of governing bodies wants Lane to take a virologist and some Navy Seals -- for protection -- to try to track down the starting point of the epidemic, in hopes of developing a cure, or a vaccine.
At this point we hit the other wall of horror: it's not just the disease, it's that Gerry Lane's family is assured safety only as long as he is useful to the government. Turn down, or muff the assignment, and the family is on its own.
That's enough of a synopsis, because the rest is all action, fair-to-middlin' unrelenting action.
Did I crawl under the movie seat? No, I don't fit anymore. Bernie refused to let me crawl into his lap, so I just held his hand very tightly and was riveted into my seat, and twitched for a while after the movie was done. I'm not sure that I enjoy being scared, but I do know that World War Z is well worth seeing on the big screen. Glad I went, glad I went with someone I can cling to.
So, as I see it, one of the difficulties with life in the modern world is that it is so complicated to figure out just how to have an enemy. We have to be so politically correct nowadays -- no name calling, no demonization, no cutesy little songs like Spike Jones' Der Fueher's Face If you get a little out of line nasty with anybody, there's always some group that will have your butt hauled in front of a judge claiming that you've hurt their feelings, and if no one can be found to sue you, the ACLU will probably take up the cause. You just can't say anything any more, unless of course you are Bill Maher, then you're encouraged to be as hateful as you like.
"We'll win this war, but we'll win it only by fighting and showing the Germans that we've got more guts than they have or ever will have," said General Patton. "We're not just going to shoot the bastards, we're going to rip out their living goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We're going to murder those lousy Hun cocksuckers by the bushel-fucking-basket."
You're just not going to hear that nowadays, and in all probability that's good. There's a lot of good psychology that says it is easier to hate if the object of your hate can be portrayed as something less than human, if your enemy can be depersonalized. It's like football: we can get all excited by seeing people beat the crap out of each other because the uniforms, and especially the helmets, turn the players into a kind of faceless robot. It more socially acceptable to watch someone take a bone-breaking shot to the ribs if we can't see their face or hear them cry out. It gets harder to be violent when the enemy is a person, someone with a family and kids, a mother and father, a dog waiting at home.
If you can get to the point where you love your enemy, the whole aggression thing starts to come unglued.
Still, right up there with the myth of a trip to the bar producing the perfect lover and no-strings sex, there is an enduring fantasy of being able to confront pure evil and become a hero by bashing its head in. Evil, as in fire-ball breathing monsters, blood-sucking vampires, anything that may have already eaten your neighbor and his dog and exposed itself to your wife; evil as in there is no question that it's either you or them. Bashing, as in stakes through the heart, silver bullets, tossing into molten lava, any ghastly means necessary to not just stop, but to destroy the evil.
World War Z is a guilty pleasure. It provides us with the perfect enemy -- zombies. In this case, these are humans infected with a virus that sucks every bit of humanity from them, turning them into something more insect-like than human, sending them swarming over the globe and devouring everything in their path. Bullets only slow them down unless you can blow their head off. And yes, they have in fact already eaten your neighbor.
So go for it. Kill 'em, blow 'em up, burn 'em down, do whatever you have to in order to survive.
This is the creepiest movie I've been to in a long time. The tension is unrelenting from the opening moments of the movie until the end. The depiction of the infected human zombies is fantastic, and the fear and desperation of the uninfected humans is palpable. There's not much time spent on character development, but it doesn't really matter since everything is being crushed under the onslaught of the zombies. And while there is no Oscar-worthy material here for them to work with, the cast members turn in good, solid performances.
The stars of the film really are the zombies. They are creepy and unsettling. There are various visual cues in the beginning of the film that beg the comparison of the zombies to ants, and if you've inadvertently stuck your hand in a good-sized ant colony and had the little beggars swarm over your hand and up your arm, you'll identify with the people in this film.
A good story, competent acting, unrelenting tension, and CGI zombies that will make your skin crawl -- all you need is a bucket of popcorn and you've got a thrill ride at the movie house.