Reason being is special in the sense that it is due to my distinct experiences enjoying the zombie genre. Writing this also happens to be apt considering it involves I Am Legend by Richard Matheson who happens to have passed recently. So here’s my review:
I am a great fan of I Am Legend. It is an amazing book and the first I read that tells the story of a man being chased by transformed human beings, in this case ‘vampire – like’ creatures. I obviously wasn’t the only fan because the book also inspired George A. Romero who would then go and make ‘Night Of The Living Dead’, featuring ‘true’ zombies albeit the slow and plodding but nonetheless out – to – get – your – brains and will – only – stop – when – shot – in – the – head. Much later we will be introduced to the sprinting zombies of 28 Days Later which imo is the best in class of the fast running zombie genre, and then now we get World War Z.
From that short history of zombie lore you will see a trend. The I Am Legend ‘zombies’ were surely out to kill but they weren’t blessed with super human powers and there was only one guy left in the story. They could even be talked to and would call out the main protagonists’ name Robert Neville in the night (one of the creepiest scenes in the book). The zombies of 28 Days and World War Z were the fast moving strong types and there were also lots of targets, the movie focusing just when a ‘rage virus’ had just started.
Of all these genres the one I found most compelling was I Am Legend because it dealt with the complete and absolute loneliness of Robert as he struggled to find a cure, try to survive and eventually, try to find a reason to continue living. In fact a movie I find parallel is Castaway, hardly a horror flick but one in which Tom Hanks struggles with the same issues, except in Neville’s case he had monsters out to get him. And even the way they wanted to get him was different. They did not possess the wall – climbing, windshield head smashing super powers of today’s zombies. Rather, I Am Legend’s vampires stood outside his house and called his name out at night, trying to get inside or make him give up and join them.
It was horrifyingly creepy – the sort of thing that would really make you fear the dark just like you would in your worst nightmares. It also became my standard about how a creepy horror flick should be like. This wasn’t the sort of thing that a 50 calibre automatic would quickly solve. The deep psychological issues the lead was facing was far beyond merely surviving. It was trying to find reason to survive. He had food, he had shelter, and he could even kill legions of the offending monsters if he wanted to. What he didn’t have know was why he should have to, especially when the monsters could actually talk and try to convince him to give up.
Due to the fact it was so compelling I had looked for that element of desolation in every serious zombie movie I watched. Sure I loved the Dawn of the Dead. I even liked Shawn of the Dead, and thoroughly enjoy everything zombie related, from Plants and Zombies to the Zombie Survival Guide. And I honestly think 28 Weeks Later is one of the best horror flicks there is whether there’s zombies in it or not. Just the thought of watching it again makes me cringe.
But as far as we’re talking about the zombie genre per se I find it hard to top the deeply haunting and disturbing I Am Legend, and so I compare any serious attempt at zombie filmmaking to it.
And compared to World War Z it’s a piffling 7. It not only doesn’t bring what I was looking for, it also doesn’t bring anything new. Of course it brings a big star, Brad Pitt, into the genre, and that definitely made me want to watch it on the premise he wouldn’t star in a bad movie. After I did he only left me wondering if he doesn’t have better choices considering how big his name is.
World War Z will have one or two sequels and will rake in mountains of cash. It looks and feels like a mega production which is why it doesn’t click with me. There’s only so much thrill you can get at the idea of being chased by sprinting zombies and besides, that’s already been covered exhaustively by countless movies.
To the producers of future zombie movies: Less Is More. There’s only so much special effects can bring to a zombie movie. Going back to understanding the effects of a zombie apocalypse on remaining humans clearly isn’t as visually exciting, which is why Hollywood will likely avoid that path. But to me it offers a deeper more satisfying well of emotion which ironically was how it all started to begin with. Maybe the next zombie flick will explore this as World War Z has clearly not.