I would argue that WWZ is not a zombie movie, it is an action movie with zombies in it. This isn’t meant as criticism, I loved the movie, it’s got travel and a ton of great characters and it’s fast paced– which puts it decidedly outside the genre. One distinguishing characteristic of zombie movies is the collision of survivors within a house, as in Night of the Living Dead, or a shopping mall, as in Dawn of the Dead. The close proximity of the survivors to one another and the mute, senseless oppression of the zombies from the outside of the structure force the action inward and create what is essentially a subgenre of the psychodrama with elements of horror.
“But wait,” you say, “what about 28 Days Later?”
Right, the story contains travel and they have fast zombies and action. Yet, it still holds true to the genre. The characters band together early, never leave one another, and then are forced by a zombie horde to face a hostile group of survivors inside a house. It’s even mentioned in the director’s commentary.
Even funny movies can be genre. Zombieland follows a small band of survivors who compete, fight and largely make their peace when faced by aforementioned zombie horde. Same goes for Sean of the Dead, in which much of the action takes place in a pub. These movies aren’t just camp, they are legitimately funny with well written jokes and quite self-aware of themselves as comedies.
Speaking of Sean of the Dead, WWZ violates the “rules” of the genre in that it refers to the zombies as zombies. Of course, were a zombie horde to approach, we’d be quite familiar with them and equip ourselves appropriately, including equipping ourselves with the language required to talk about these novel beings. For some reason, though, the characters in zombie movies never do, it’s just a quirk of the genre that allows the audience to suspend its disbelief as they watch the characters go through various phases of disbelief, panic, sadness and resolve.
“But what about the W.H.O.?” you say.
Yes, an office, or a mall, or a prison (as in the case in more recent seasons of Walking Dead), or an underground bunker, or whatever, could serve as a stand-in for the traditional house. What makes the use of the W.H.O. office non-genre is in how it is used. The zombies are oddly absent outside the office, but are present within. As well, the office serves to isolate the survivors, rather than bring them together. After recovering from his injuries, Brad Pitt’s character, aka “What’s his Name,” ends up by himself and is the sole focus of the rest of the cast for the remainder of the movie. It’s basically the Mission Impossible scene with Tom Cruise suspended with the drop of sweat and all that, except with doctoral-level zombies in lab coats.
The use of cell phones was interesting, and will hopefully test and expand the limits of the well-worn zombie movie genre. The use of cell phones allows interpersonal dynamics to play out despite geographic or temporal distance. In this way, the “house” becomes conceptual, rather than physical, and also allows the exclusion of others. For instance, in a genre-specific use of cell phones, a survivor in a car or satellite location sends a distress text to another group of survivors in a more secure location. The text’s delivery is delayed by circumstances tied to said horde. The text, upon its receipt, is met with mixed response– the other group could have been killed in the interim, before the text was delivered. The other group would be a burden. The other group has members which would cause conflict. There is a clear ingroup and outgroup. These characters would be forced to interact with one another as part of a “house,” even if the characters are never in the same room, and communicate entirely by cell phone.
The way cell phones are used in WWZ does not create cohesion or tension within the ingroup. What it does, besides providing a key plot moment, is spread out the action between two groups– the father and his action and the mother and her (limited) storyline. I’ve read that her storyline is more involved in the book, but more tragic, so maybe that’s just as well. The inclusion of this dynamic in the outright narrative takes the movie one step further from the genre, in that it takes Brad Pitt’s character even further from any ingroup situation he may be establishing himself in. It makes it a family drama, yes, but wasn’t Night of the Living Dead also a family drama? With the family in the basement? There was a brother and sister thing, too.
In summation– WWZ is a fantastic action movie, with zombies.
- In Theaters: World War Z (omskivar.wordpress.com)
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