World War Z (USA/UK, 2013)

World-War-Z-posterDirected by: Marc Forster. Let me start off by saying that I generally don’t give much of a shit about zombie movies. But as time goes on, and this whole zombie thing keeps going along steadily with no sign of letup, I’ve developed a generalized understanding of the two schools of zombie-ism in modern culture. The first is the one I really don’t give a shit about—the traditional zombie as “undead,” come back to life from a bad incantation read from a mystical book, etc. My understanding of this genre is limited to the bits of George Romero I’ve seen and a zombie segment in one of the early Simpsons Halloween episodes. The other kind is basically a plague allegory, and to the best of my limited knowledge, it either started by, or was at least greatly popularized by, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, which is actually one of my favourite movies of modern times, and easily the best zombie movie I’ve ever seen (tied with Shaun of the Dead, of course). Watching World War Z,  it was striking how similar it was to Contagion (and really, watching Contagion, it was obvious how little tweaking it would take to turn it into a zombie movie). The parallels are so obvious I won’t go into it, but it’s pretty interesting, right? I’m sure that when the first printing of “World War Z and Philosophy” hits the shelves in time for Christmas, it will have a fair amount of space devoted to a sociological analysis of our culture’s receptivity to repeated (and repeated and repeated) depictions of a complete collapse of modern society on film—whether due to a zombie apocalypse, a worldwide contagion, an alien invasion, or something else. I think it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it is big, scary, and causes a lot of death and destruction—whatever it takes to get those bums in the seats (as I assume they say in film industry jargon). To that end, zombies are a really handy way of creating those apocalyptic scenarios in an insulated, bulletproof way. This movie is really interesting in that way, too, though. It’s a self-proclaimed zombie movie—one that actually uses the word “zombie”—and thus is insulated from believability and scrutiny to realistic detail and plausibility. And yet, this is obviously a movie taking great pains to seem realistic to us as we watch it. Other than the zombies—you know, the entire driving force of the film—this is a pretty toned-down, relatively sober look at human civilization in distress. It’s not as toned-down as Contagion, but Marc Forster is closer in kind to Soderbergh than, say, Michael Bay, and that makes all the difference. Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely a big Hollywood summer blockbuster, but it’s also a pretty far cry from George Romero, and that’s probably why I like it.

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