Breaking from horror tradition, the zombies in apocalyptic action film World War Z move at breakneck speed rather than the familiar living-dead shuffle.
Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment secured the film rights to Max Brooks’ apocalyptic zombie-plague novel in 2007 but it’s taken years of expensive rewrites, re-shoots and other hitches for World War Z finally to reach the screen.
The movie’s journey from page to screen may have progressed at a living-dead shuffle, but its zombies don’t dawdle. Marc Forster’s film has barely begun before we discover that – unlike those in the book – the newly infected victims of the story’s zombie plague move at a breakneck sprint.
That’s quite a shock, too, for Pitt’s hero, former UN investigator Gerry Lane, who’s stuck in a Philadelphia traffic jam with his wife (Mireille Enos) and daughters when the epidemic strikes the city with stomach-lurching suddenness. As we quickly learn, it only takes 12 seconds from first bite for a healthy human to be turned into a ravenous flesh-eater.
But Gerry is no slouch, either, and before long he’s been co-opted to lead the quest to locate the source of the zombie virus, a desperate globetrotting mission that takes him from an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic to South Korea, Jerusalem and, brace yourselves, a World Health Organisation laboratory in Wales.
At every step along the way, Forster stages the action with thrilling urgency – when the fast-moving zombies surge through the gridlocked streets of Philadelphia, the scenes of chaos and carnage are terrifying; when, later on, the zombie tide overwhelms Jerusalem it’s even scarier.
The film’s race-against-time dynamic couldn’t be further removed from the chilling reportage of the novel, which takes the form of first-hand accounts by zombie war survivors. And the relentless pace means little opportunity for reflection and no time for philosophical or political subtexts.
For some, these will be serious flaws. The books’ admirers will lament the loss of its geopolitical edge, while hard-core horror fans will be irked by the lack of gore and by the movie’s departure from the rules of zombie behaviour laid down by George A Romero’s Dead series. Where are the scenes of the undead feasting on entrails? Where is the atmosphere of creeping dread? Where the subversive satire?
But if you take Forster’s movie on its own terms – as end-of-the-world action movie rather than horror thriller – then it delivers pulse-pounding, adrenaline-pumping excitement.
In cinemas from Friday 21st June.