Let’s kick off Horrorfest with the film World War Z, released in 2013. I’m not typically interested in Zombie films, mainly for the embarrassing reason that I find them quite believable–particularly the way this film spins the mass outbreak of a mutated virus that takes approximately ten seconds to transform a human into a crazy strong, violent, and most importantly FAST (probably their speed is the creepiest factor of these zombies; that or the teeth champing) creatures hell-bent on eating every pound of flesh they can find.
The zombies look and behave differently in Forster’s vision of a worldwide zombie apocalypse. I found that refreshing, and also terrifying. These are definitely zombies you cannot outrun, which makes them all the more horrifying. This film is also enough of an action film to keep people engaged with many high-speed, death defying stunts that Brad Pitt’s character somehow manages to survive. Additionally, it’s fun to try and figure out the mystery of how to beat the mutated virus. As the ardent Harvard scientist states,
Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one’s better. Or more creative. Like all serial killers, she can’t help the urge to want to get caught. What good are all those brilliant crimes if no one takes the credit? So she leaves crumbs. Now the hard part, why you spend a decade in school, is seeing the crumbs. But the clue’s there. Sometimes the thing you thought was the most brutal aspect of the virus, turns out to be the chink in its armor.
I enjoyed this adrenaline rush of a film for the overall experience. Let’s break down the main pieces:
The things that scare us:
1.) The frantic pacing of the film
2.) The use of lighting to create visual drama (particularly the creepy the scenes lit with the road flare, the institutionalized lighting in the WHO building, and the darkness in the streets and apartment buildings while they flee)
3.) The fears that zombies represent to us (loss of control, loss of self, contamination, societal destruction)
4.) The use of sound cues to inspire horror (the creepy raptor sound the zombies make, the teeth chatter they do while dormant, the sounds of them bashing their heads through windshields to seek their prey)
The things that inspire us:
1.) The institution of the family, and how this is reinforced throughout the film
2.) The survivalism of Brad Pitt’s character (“keep moving and you survive”)
3.) Investigative curiosity as he travels around the globe to solve the crisis
4.) The triumph of good over evil (one of our culture’s favorite themes)
Other interesting commentary:
1.) The scene in Israel when the prayer chants drive the zombies to climb over the walls; is this a religious/political commentary? Is it more about how the joy and light of humanity clashes against the darkness and evil in the zombies?
2.) The blurred line between good and evil. Think about it. The viruses that work as camouflage against the Zombie mutation were at one time pandemics of their own. They inspired real fear as their effects were devastating and far reaching. I mean, sure, the Spanish Influenza didn’t create zombies, but it wiped out a whole bunch of people (and isn’t that equally as terrifying?)
If we examine the idea of zombies and what they potentially represent (see above) we can learn more about our culture and what we as a group fear. Given our history, it is no wonder we fear contamination (most of us descend from Europeans, all of whom survived the bubonic plague, along with a multitude of other widespread diseases). Loss of control and loss of self seems like a cross-cultural biggie that have existed throughout history (read Gothic horror, you’ll see it there. Read mythology, it’s there, too). Probably one of the most terrifying aspects of zombie films is the complete breakdown of society. Chaos, people running everywhere, no law, etc. We cannot function in such a state of chaos, and the idea of such a state terrifies us.
Watching these fears depicted on film helps us explore these fears and experience them from a safe distance. It allows our minds to go into the territory of “what if” and feel our curiosity satisfied without exposing ourselves to any real danger. No matter how we feel about horror, or the zombie genre in particular, we cannot deny it’s a major player in American Popular culture, and thinking about why is very important. What does this tell us about ourselves?
Also, we can’t ignore the fact that Peter Capaldi plays a doctor in the W.H.O. building. C’mon, that had to be more than coincidence, right? Where are my Doctor Who fans at?!