I haven't gotten into the Walking Dead, Pride, Prejudice and Zombies or any of the many Zombcentric video games, so this movie was basically my indoctrination into the world of the undead and I liked it. It was full of action, tension and suspense, but without being rife with crashes and explosions. Blood and gore happened out of the camera's range. Furthermore, while it had no sex and very little cursing, it was not a kid's movie, mainly because of its humorless intensity. Playing the lead with unadorned humanity, Brad Pitt was more likable than I've seen him since Meet Joe Black. His Gerry Lane was heroic in his goodness, rather than physical prowess.
Gerry is a retired United Nations covert operator. He's cooking breakfast for his family (wife Karin and daughters Grace and Connie), while disturbing news story flash across the screen, but they're the every day variety. Death, strife, terror abound in the footage, but it's common place, not just in Jerry's world, but ours too.
The family bundles into their car and get caught in a traffic jam. Jerry's side view mirror is knocked off. He gets out to investigate. There's something strange in the air, but he can't pinpoint it. Suddenly, police are motorcycling through the stranded cars bellowing for everyone to get back in their cars. Before Gerry can obey or challenge those instructions, bedlam breaks out. Hordes of subhumans began attacking. They're mindless, fast-moving (bucking the slow-moving zombie lore) beings. Their mouths are mostly white orbs, mouths agape for mawing. They don't think, they just bite. People run in hysteria. Once bitten, they turn into the monsters themselves, within seconds.
Gerry takes in all the mayhem around him silently, concentrating on keeping his girls calm. They're a thankless brood. Well, the wife is helpful, but the kids have an unfortunate habit of disappearing in life and death situations, without a word to their parents. The older one is about 12 and asthmatic. She goes into shock. As Gerry tries to drive them away from the violent frenzy around them, one refuses to put on her seatbelt, so he has to worry about her being killed in a collision, on top of a zombie chomping her. She's really more trouble than she's worth.
When they discover that the eldest, Grace, does not have her asthma medicine, Gerry tries to calm her down by having her focus on him, rather than her fear of suffocating. Look at me. Breathe through your nose. She only halfway follows his direction. I know she's scared, but she just seems generally non-compliant and doesn't communicate her fear or hesitation. Although she seemed perfectly normal eating breakfast in the kitchen, once the zombie attack starts, she's silent in a way that makes me wonder if she doesn't have a cognitive impairment. Gerry stops off at a big box store to find her medicine. The place is being looted and the Lane family joins the melee.
Karin runs to get food, while Gerry searches for the medication. Near the pharmacy he's almost attacked by a crazed man, but it turns out it was just a scared drug store employee, trying to protect himself from the zombies. He asks Gerry what he needs and hunts down the asthma drugs for him. In fact, all of the humans in this story are helpful(well, except for the government which ultimately sells Gerry's family out). They assist each other and never play survival of the fittest. Although they may seem antagonistic upon approach, once they find that the other person is not a zombie and is not on the offensive, they yield and lend aid and cooperation. On a larger scale, the broad message is "once you understand the other person's motives, you're alike, not enemies."
Gerry has the medicine for Grace, but hears Connie screaming. Though everyone is yelling, Gerry recognizes his daughter's voice above all others and runs to her. Connie's about 8. She's in the shopping cart. She sees her dad, but doesn't explain to him what the problem is. This is common for all of the female Lanes. They yell "Gerry" or "Daddy! Daddy!" and then say nothing. He has to follow their point of focus with his eyes and figure out what they're trying to show him. In a disaster, this is a waste of precious time. So, Gerry looks around to try to discover what his kid is screaming about and sees his wife being attacked. He wards off the assailants and then they scramble to get the supplies they will need on the run. A police officer comes towards them and they think they might be arrested for looting, but he's actually trying to grab supplies off the shelves himself. The Lanes make their escape.
When they get to the parking lot, the RV they commandeered has disappeared. They head for an apartment building. They have to bat away zombies every few feet. Gerry canvases his surroundings and sees a whino on the street who is oblivious to the panic around him. For some reasons, the zombies don't attack this dilapidated man, but head after all of the people running away from them. In this chaos, Connie wanders away -- and that's what is so frustrating. It's not like she fell or lost her family. No, she just walks away from them. Yet, the parents don't yell at her. In fact, their main focus throughout everything is to keep their children calm. They feel, "If I behave as if I'm not scared, then my children won't be." But you know what? Sometimes, your children SHOULD be scared. They need to know they can't just walk away on a whim. Tell them they will die horrible deaths if they just keep walking away like that. Let them know, if the zombies don't kill them, you will!
Anyway, for no particular reason Connie has stopped cold in front of an apartment door. Her family backtracks, to go retrieve her. She says nothing but just stares, then pounds on the door, demanding that the occupants let her in. Why did she choose that one? Who knows. But the door opens. The family inside (a mother, father and son) see the Lanes and pull them all in to safety. They bar the door. The family offers them food and a place to sleep.
Gerry has called his old United Nations boss who says that they need him. Whole cities have been taken by the zombies and they need to find a way to stop the spread of what is essentially a virus. Gerry's old boss, Thierry, says he will move heaven and earth to come rescue Gerry. They can have a helicopter on the roof of the apartment he is in by morning. Gerry tells the family who is sheltering him that it's better to move. If they stay put, they will be trapped. They are Hispanic and the son, Tomas, translates for his parents. The father doesn't want to run, because he doesn't believe there's any place to run to.
Gerry falls asleep, but when he awakes, he can't find Grace. Alarmed he searches the apartment and she's sleeping with Tomas in his room. Tomas says that she started crying in the middle of the night and he comforted her. Again, why would she just leave the area where her parents were and go off without waking them, knowing they would be distressed to wake and see her gone??
The next morning, when Gerry and his family make the perilous journey to the apartment roof, Tomas' father refuses to join them. As soon as the Lanes leave, there is pounding on the apartment door as the zombies come for Tomas' family. Meanwhile, on the stairwell, the zombies are on the Lanes' heels. Gerry hits at one of them and some of the splatter gets in his mouth. When the family reaches the roof, he is ready to jump off the ledge. If he turns into a zombie, he doesn't want to risk harming his family. He counts to 12 and then steps down from the ledge. From what he has seen, it takes 12 seconds to turn from human to zombie, once bitten. He thinks he is safe. Relieved Karin says to him, "you're ok. You're ok." She didn't shriek like a banshee when she thought he was going to jump off the building and neither did his kids, so I'm not sure the daughters ever fully realized what could have happened in that moment.
As they climb up into the waiting helicopter, Tomas runs towards them. The Lanes shovel him into the vehicle and just as they are about to fly off Tomas' father, now a zombie, tries to stop them. Gerry kills him to free the helicopter. Safe, Karin holds one of their girls while Tomas, an orphan now, buries his head in Gerry's chest.
They are flown to a UN guarded compound. It's high off the ground and guarded with gunmen on all quarters, so the zombies can't access it. Thierry shows the family to their bunks. Karin laughs that it's not much smaller than the first apartment she and Gerry had. Gerry asks Thierry what's happening. Karin quietly tells them that they should discuss that somewhere else (outside of the children's' earshot). Gerry wordlessly acquiesces. He and Karin are not just married, they're partners, teaming to protect their family physically and emotionally.
Thierry and Gerry look at the zombie attack like a virus and Gerry thinks to find out how to stop it, they need to find where it started. Find the first person who carried it. There's a young doctor, just 23, who is the best hope of tracing the origin of the disease. They think a military base in South Korea may hold the answer, but it's been largely overrun with zombies, so to get in the doctor will need an escort. Thierry wants Gerry to fly over with him. Gerry refuses to leave his family. Thierry already told him that he didn't rescue Gerry for old time's sake. Gerry was one of the best men he had and he needs his help. The bunks at the compound are limited to essential personnel. If Gerry does not go to South Korea for him, he will have to remove his family from the compound. Gerry has no choice. He tells Karin he has to go and she responds, "Do you remember what that job was like for you? I'm not agreeing for you to go back." Um, this is not exactly a career choice for him. Haven't you noticed that the world is ending, lady? He tells her that they will be thrown out of the compound if he doesn't go and then she concedes. He gives her a one-way cell phone transmitter and says he will call her once a day.
He hugs Connie. Tells Tomas to take care of the girls while he's gone (sweet, but this movie seems so conscientious about roles that I'm almost surprised that line is in there) and Grace is asleep, naturally, so he doesn't wake her -- which I think is risky, since they may never meet again and maybe she would have liked to say goodbye to her dad. Then, again, knowing her laconic ways, maybe not. He whispers goodbye into her hair as she slumbers, promising to return.
As they are flying to South Korea, knowing that they are the world's last hope for survival, the doctor thinks that's a good time to try out his metaphors. He says that nature is like any other serial killer, she likes to leave behind clues. The answer often lies in something simple that you overlooked. When they land, they have to fight off zombies, the army officers call them "zekes" to get to the base. In the battle, the doctor freaks, shoots himself and dies almost before they're in. So, any chance that he might lead them to a solution seems to be gone as well. The soldiers mock his ineptitude, but Gerry points out that the guy was just 23 years old and he didn't have to risk his life to come there. He volunteered. Well, maybe Thierry threatened to throw him to the wolves if he didn't help the UN as well, so I don't know how much free will the doctor had, but R.I.P.
The base was attacked and most of the men there were turned into zekes and killed. You can see their decomposed bodies imprisoned in cells. The army officers chained the ones they captured up. Even though they're mostly ashes, they are still flashes of movement from them. They are truly "undead." The army officer tells Gerry that shooting them in the chest only slows them down, but if you get them in the head, that seems to disable them. They like to burn them, if possible, just to be sure. He also tells Gerry they are attracted to sound, so they try to be very quiet, so as not to make them swarm. Gerry says it seems to take 12 seconds to convert from human to zombie, but the soldiers say they've seen it take up longer, 10 minutes, even longer. I, of course, feel this is a plot point. I think that they will think someone is safe and is not going to turn into a zombie, but it will turn out that they were wrong. This doesn't happen. Maybe they just through that into the script as a red herring. Still, I wonder why Gerry acts like he didn't hear that part. He still goes around thinking that it only takes 12 seconds to convert and he acts on that assumption, to what I feared would be his peril.
The officers call out their home towns hoping Gerry can tell them if their cities and families are safe in the United States. Gerry has to admit that few places at home are safe.
Inside a cell, he seems one officer chained up who is not a zombie. The other soldiers think he's crazy, but there seems to be a method to his madness. He was at a place where they managed to keep the zombies at bay. He is actually the first person to use the word 'zombie" when describing the monsters to Gerry. At the UN, Thierry and his people didn't seem to have a name for them. He explains to Gerry that all of them pulled their teeth. If you can't fight, you can't spread the zombie disease. That's why he survived for as long as he did. His mouth, is indeed toothless. But even so his group succumbed to the zombies eventually. One place that is safe is Israel. It's surrounded by walls high enough to keep the zombies out. They can't climb walls. He tells Gerry that it's quite a coincidence that Israel has this defense. Gerry points out that they've been building walls for years. Yes, the man says, but they got them finished just in time for the zombie outbreak. That seems like more than chance.
Gerry decides to head to Israel to see if they have any answers. He gets a volunteer pilot for the treacherous journey. The problem is not the flight, but getting past the zombies to get to and from the plane. They need some men from the base to help them fuel. A few guys volunteer. One gives Gerry his class ring to take back to his family. He thinks Gerry has a greater chance of returning home than he does. As they head to the plane, heavily armed, they are trying to make as little noise as possible, because noise attracts the zombies. Halfway there, Gerry's phone rings. It's Karin. The zombies hear and start attacking. Gerry just barely makes it onto the plane. One of the officers is bitten. Oh no, he's a zeke he realizes. His men tell him to let him know when he is ready for them to shoot him, before the worst happens. He says, rather matter-of-factly, "I got this one" and he shoots himself. The lack of tears and grief make the moment more poignant. It's reminiscent of MASH when they learned that Henry Blake had been killed and they had to keep on operating.
In Israel, zombies clamor outside of the wall, but the occupants are safe inside. They are even letting people from neighboring countries in. The leader tells Gerry the more humans he saves, the fewer he will have to fight as zombies. How did they know to build the wall, Gerry asks. He says that they heard a rumor of zombies long ago. And a practical man like him believed it? Well, they didn't believe the holocaust was going to happen in the 1930s. They didn't believe the Arab fights would cause the death and destruction that they did. History showed Israel that skepticism doesn't pay. The leader was one of 10 men on the council. If 9 of them believed something, it was the 10th person's job to take the opposite viewpoint and that's what he did. He started defending Israel as if zombies did exist, although the 9 other council members thought they didn't.
Meanwhile, feeling warm and cozy inside their wall, the citizens are marching and singing. Thick-headed Gerry doesn't think to tell them what he knows about zombies -- that they love noise. Outside the wall the zombies are building a human (well, inhuman) pyramid, getting higher and higher as they stack up against the wall, climbing on top of each other. Eventually, zombies are able to run and use each other as stairs and began to topple over the wall. Suddenly, all peace evaporates. It happens in an instant. There's a stampede and war breaks out as they fight the zombies. Gerry wanted a plane to leave Israel and continue his search for the first person who became a zombie and the leader didn't want to give it to him, but once he's in the middle of a zombie invasion he quickly changes his mind and gives orders to get Gerry out of there.
The zombies move jerkily and turn to menace humans in an instant, just like the ones in Michael Jackson's Thriller. Gerry sees a young soldier bitten. He begins the 12 second count and reaches out and hacks off her bitten arm before she converts. She yowls in agony. Thanks a lot, buster. How'd he know cutting off her arm would work, she asks him later. He says he didn't. It was just a good guess, at which point she should have just shot him. Her name is Segen. He asks if it's her first name or last and she refuses to say. "Just Segen." Well, whatever.
I am sure Segen is going to be one of the people they thought was safe, but who turns into a zombie later, after the 12 second mark has passed. Luckily for Gerry, that didn't happen. They get onto an airplane that was trying to land in Israel, but seeing the raging zombies changes its flight course. Gerry has flashbacks of the herding zombies completely ignoring some people, like the drunken homeless man, a thin boy in the street. I'm not sure, but I think he looks at his own daughter in the supermarket grocery cart, but I don't know how she fits in with the others. He thinks he knows why the zombies didn't attack them. He tells the pilot to take the plane to the World Health Organization (WHO). Suddenly, there's a rumbling and a zombie breaks out of a closet in the plane. Who put him there and wouldn't someone think to mention that he was inside and that, maybe, that door should be guarded. When the stewardess was telling everyone how to use a life vest, she might just want to have pointed out the zombie in the locker. The zombie bites and suddenly everyone else is turning Z.
Gerry sees no other way out. Segen has a grenade and they throw it. Part of the plane explodes and they crash. He and Segen seem to be the only survivors. What are the odds? Their plane landed only a few miles from the WHO, so they walk there.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Thierry has heard that Gerry's plane crash and he is presumed dead. He doesn't waste any time telling the Lanes they have to leave the compound. It is for essential military personnel only and since Gerry died trying to save the world at Thierry's request, they have to kick his family to the curb pronto. Karin doesn't remonstrate with Thierry. Hopefully, her silence and blank eyes were enough to rain the shame down, but alas it probably wasn't. Guilt is never the punishment it should be. Karin and the kids are packed onto a refugee plane.
At WHO, Gerry is chained up. He was injured in the plane crash. They removed the metal shard from his stomach and he has been unconscious for three days. He explains who he is. Segen was not unconscious and I don't know why she didn't explain to WHO that Gerry was a good guy, but once he makes a phone call to Theirry they start to trust him. Gerry learns that his family has been sent to Nova Scotia and, somehow, manages not to call Thierry every name in the book. He knows his family is not safe, no matter what they claim.
The WHO staff has been badly reduced. Many of them are zombies, which the humans have tracked in some of the labs. Gerry tells WHO his theory is that the zombies don't bite sick people. If they sense you are terminally ill, they avoid you. The WHO scientists say there is precedence for this in nature. Predators sometimes don't prey on diseased animals. They somehow know that they might endanger themselves by doing so. So, what if the zombies are the same, how is that an anecdote for the zombie bite. It's not an anecdote Gerry says, but it will be camouflage. If everyone is sick the zombies won't bother attacking them. It won't get rid of the zombies, but it might stop the creation of new ones. Do they have any fatal substances there that Gerry can use to test that theory on the zombies. Yes, they have meningitis, cancer cells, all sorts of fatal stuff, but it's in another building and that building is full of zombies. They will have to go over the skybridge to get there. Segen, Gerry and one of the doctors grab weapons and go and the other doctors seal the skybridge after them. They have to get to one particular vault where all the dangerous cells are kept.
They end up accidentally making noise, which attracts all the zombies to them. Although, even in the dormant (non-attack) phase zombies are still moving. Don't they knock into things and make a lot of noise themselves? I don't know why they don't run to each other. Humans aren't the only ones who create a clamor. Segen and the doctor run through the skybridge and back to safety. Gerry uses the distraction to get into the vault he needs. But for some insane reason he leaves his weapon outside the vault. He didn't even need to use both hands to get in. He needn't have put down his weapon at all. Yet, that stupid gesture is what the plot needed for a climatic ending. So, unarmed he goes into the vault. There's a lone zombie outside pounding to get in. There's only one way out. He injects himself with an unknown, but lethal injection. I think he could have doused himself in the deadly stuff like cologne. Wouldn't the zombie just have smelled death and sickness on him and steered clear. Why did Gerry actually have to inject it bodily? To heighten the stakes I guess.
Gerry injects himself, writes a sign for the doctors who can see him on a monitor. It says, "Tell my family I love them." The doctors visibly flinch in premature mourning. Corny yes, but I like it too and I start crying myself. If Gerry's theory is incorrect, he will die either way. If the zombies don't get him, the deadly injection will.
Gerry opens the door between himself and the zombie and waits. The zombie sniffs him, but doesn't attack. He walks right past him as if he's not there. The doctors watching on the monitor are incredulous. Gerry scoops up a bunch of the deadly bacteria and heads out towards the skybridge where dozens of zombies wait. They let him walk right through. Back with the WHO doctors, Gerry gets an antidote. He is reunited with his family in Nova Scotia, but we're told it's not a happy ending. It's just the beginning. They haven't cured the zombie problem, they've just kept it at bay. People receive shots that trick the zombies into not attacking, but it hasn't gotten rid of all of them. It hasn't helped them find the origin of the disease and kill it at its root. They're only safe for now.
I hear this movie is quite a departure from the book. Would I have liked the book more or less? I wonder, but not enough to actually pick up the book and find out. The film though was fast paced and mostly satisfying. Dumb moves were made, but not nearly as much as you see in most action movies. The honest reactions, along with Gerry's determined integrity kept the movie grounded, no matter how many mountains of CGI zombies scurried like ants. When the response is genuine, it doesn't matter how unrealistic or undead the threat they pose, the fight is still worth winning. And watching.