Zombies, everyone loves to hate them and Brad Pitt and director Marc Foster have moved them front and centre, from niche market into the Multiplex.
Instead of shuffling, small groups of the undead, this story imagines a Zombie pandemic with zombies running at breakneck speeds and swarming like ants around a jar of honey.
Commencing with arguably the most effective sequence, we meet every man Gerry (Pitt), playing eye spy with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and two young kids, in his safe suburban Volvo on the traffic blocked streets of Philadelphia.
After losing a car wing mirror, it quickly becomes evident that Gerry and family have a lot more to lose if they do not move quickly. Once bitten the victim becomes part of the horde within twelve seconds, not long for those you previously loved to get far enough away, as they become your next prey.
The early sequence where Gerry attempts to protect his and another family within an apartment block is very effective and ramps up the tension as they all struggle to survive. The depiction of the inevitable break down in law and order, rapidly moving into “every man for himself”, is both highly believable and highlights the thin veneer of civility we all accept and rely upon in our daily life.
Of course Pitt is not just a normal Joe, in a previous life he moved through the hot spots of the world as a UN investigator and remains a key resource, worthy of saving to help the greater good, assuming of course he agrees to join the forces fighting back.
The film is not so much about killing zombies, although the largely bloodless body count is high, the story instead focusing upon finding a cure to prevent further spread of the disease. This is made clear as Gerry is tasked with assisting a young top virologist Dr Fassbach (Gabel) sent to “ground zero” to investigate.
The film moves around the world, with a notable second act set in Jerusalem before reaching a climax in, rather bizarrely Cardiff, Wales UK. Rather than a welcome in the hill sides, just zombies, lots of zombies in white coats.
The film is loosely based upon the book from Max Brooks and the film production was beset by rumours of cost overruns, re-shoots and “creative differences”. In the Internet age, these terms are liberally attached to most big productions and despite initial reservations, the film has been successful with an ending leaving room for more, if audiences desire a re-match.
The film deliberately shies away from any outright gore, hard core horror fans should look elsewhere but this allows a much broader audience to enjoy a highly enjoyable thriller, that just happens to have Zombies as the main protagonist. There are “jump” scares a plenty but nothing your average 13 year old will not have seen before.
Pitt plays the family man called to action with ease, equally at home with an axe in his hand for making kindling or neutralising zombies as the situation demands. Enos (from the “The Killing” fame) makes a sympathetic “stay at home mom, whilst husband is killing zombie hordes” but does not get enough to do. However, a note to self to always be careful when calling your partner during a zombie pandemic, as timing can be crucial.
The effects and make up are state of the art, as you would expect on a production of this size. The final chapter works well but does appear to be spliced onto the action earlier, as if from a different film all together. This represents a much quieter and intimate man versus zombie, which could be due to the mentioned re-shoot, it does not harm the film but is a noticeable change of pace and setting.
Zombies lite, suitable for most family viewings with a good story, action sequences and effects.
Highly enjoyable thriller with mild horror sequences that confounded pre-release critics, who clearly forgot the power of Zombie films to get up and keep going, even after being left for dead by their early reviews.