The 400-Word Review: World War Z

By Sean Collier

June 24, 2013

Oh, right. *That's* why I don't like helicopter rides.

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In the 45 years since George Romero brought the world into a tiny farmhouse for Night of the Living Dead, the scope of zombie flicks has remained intimate.

In that film, we focused on survivors trying to keep the zombie horde outdoors. Dawn of the Dead relocated to the mall, but still followed a small group. Even 28 Days Later, which created memorable scenes of a desolate London, concerned itself with a limited number of uninfected protagonists.

World War Z has a leading man, too — Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former U.N. investigator. The traditional narrative would have Lane blockade his family — wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and daughters Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins) — in some remote spot, fending off hungry intruders. Not here; in World War Z, Lane jumps around the globe in search of clues that might lead to a cure.

See, most of the world wrote off the zombie-producing infection as an unimportant nuisance; we get the impression that the global reaction to the gathering undead inspired shrugs, much like the reaction to a wave of news reports about a swine flu outbreak. Before anyone took the trouble seriously, the infection had spread to nearly every major city.


With little government to speak of, Lane has to get up close and personal to gather information. At no time are we more than a few minutes removed from a zombie fight, no matter how secure Lane’s location seems to be.

What results is an unusual hybrid of a movie, with elements of horror, mystery, thriller and that odd subgenre of epidemic drama (think Contagion). It’s hard to make such a pastiche work; fortunately, director Marc Forster is a deft storyteller unafraid to dive into murkiness.

Among his wise moves is a focus on some of the secondary characters that Lane runs into. Pitt and Enos both do well, but the film’s most memorable character is bold Israeli soldier Segen (Daniella Kertesz).

Before World War Z, the zombie genre had devolved into parody (some of it quite good) and repetition (some of it acceptable.) By changing the structure, though, Forster and Brooks have pushed into new territory, with the mass appeal of “The Walking Dead” and the blockbuster palatability of the better Marvel flicks. It might be the best movie of the summer, and it’s awfully close to being the best zombie movie ever.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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