Zombies have been a part of our culture since the 1930s and this horror sub-genre has witnessed a significant rise in popularity ever since George A. Romero took the world by storm with Night of the Living Dead in 1968. However, these agents of death have since been used to satisfy fans of horror and comedy simultaneously, and although we still see zombies in many popular film and TV titles, World War Z could bring back what originally made the genre so popular.
Although The Walking Dead revolves around a post-apocalyptic world, television's use of zombies usually leans heavily on comical aspects with shows like iZombie and Santa Clarita Diet. Meanwhile, the big screen is witnessing a resurgence (or perhaps more appropriately, a resurrection) when it comes to zombie-based horror. In fact, movies from overseas such as Train to Busan and The Girl With All The Gifts have been so critically and commercially successful that they likely played a part in getting David Fincher's sequel to World War Z green-lit.
But before we can fully realize how Fincher can significantly change the zombie sub-genre's current direction, it's important to acknowledge how these brain-eating beasts are currently being used in American entertainment.
Where Does The Zombie Genre Stand Today?
Ever since The Walking Dead debuted in 2010, the show has garnered a faithful fan-base who truly care for the show's characters. Despite its setting, the show focuses on the drama between human survivors. However, a look at the show's declining ratings suggests that The Walking Dead's incredibly popular formula of separating Rick's group and pitting them against an enemy might have run its course.
Zombies are also being used as a source for comedy, with shows like iZombie and Santa Clarita Diet, which can be a successful sub-genre but defeats the initial intent of these undead characters.
Furthermore, movies like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Resident Evil use the undead as a means to awe the viewers with bullet-pumping action without consequence. Although Z-Nation tried to take a conventional approach, the weight of its peers means that zombies are generally not the agents of fear they once were.
However, 2015's Maggie showed that the genre was still salvageable. Although the movie tanked at the box-office, the personal take on a father trying to deal with her daughter's painful transition into a cannibalistic monster was certainly refreshing.
This is also how Train to Busan and The Girl With All The Gifts reinvigorated the genre, providing a mature take on a post-apocalyptic world. Made on a budget of $8.5 million, Train to Busan earned more than $87 million worldwide, while The Girl With All The Gifts holds an 84% approval rating on the Tomatometer. So, while zombies have commonly become a comedic tool on TV, their big-screen counterparts are showing radical changes that shouldn't go unnoticed.
Unlike Train to Busan and The Girl With All The Gifts, World War Z is already a title that many moviegoers will be familiar with. This means that while the previously mentioned hits can show Fincher what fans would like to see with an upcoming sequel, it's ultimately the likes of World War Z that can reinvigorate the genre on a larger scale.
'World War Z': How Did Max Brooks's Novel Horrify Its Readers?
Released in 2006, Max Brooks attributed the popularity of World War Z to the worldwide events that occurred throughout the six years prior to release. From the Y2K crisis and the horrifying events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, these devastating events increased the public's anxiety. While writing for The Guardian, Brooks described how these fictional monsters allowed viewers to vent their fears in safe space, thanks to the book's unrealistic nature,
"The last six years have witnessed a bombardment of tragic events. Terrorism, war, viral outbreaks and natural disasters have created a global undercurrent of anxiety not seen since the darkest days of the cold war. It seems that just turning on the nightly news either shows some present calamity or one that might potentially befall us any day now."
"Zombie movies present people with an outlet for their apocalyptic anxieties without directly confronting them. The living dead are a fictional threat, as opposed to tsunamis or avian flu. No matter how scary or realistic the particular story might be, their unquestionably fictional nature makes them 'safe'."
"Someone can watch, say 'Dawn of the Dead', and witness an orgy of graphic violence and destruction, but still know in the back of their minds that, once they switch off the TV, this particular threat will simply cease to exist, something that cannot be said for terrorist docu-drama 'Dirty War', or the classic nuclear nightmare 'Threads'. Knowing that zombies can never really rise allows for a feeling of control, a rare and valuable thing these days."
Similarly, the year 2013 saw the devastating Boston marathon bombings and a series of weather-related catastrophes, causing a rising sense of anxiety among the masses. When Brad Pitt's World War Z hit theaters on June 2013, moviegoers were offered a scenario that was much worse than the state of the real world.
However, many people who saw the movie, including Max Brooks, felt disheartened by the adaptation. While attending the SDCC 2013, Brooks mentioned that the movie had diverged from the book to such an extent that it actually became enjoyable.
"The movie and the book [shakes head] really don't have a lot in common. They got a great title! And people are asking me, 'What do you think of the movie?'. Here's the deal. I expected to hate it. I wanted to hate it. I wanted it to suck! ... Then I went to see it and it didn't suck and I didn't hate it and I specifically thought I'll hate it because it was so different from the book. But what shocked me was that exactly because it was so different from the book, that I didn't hate it because it was somebody else's movie. It had nothing to do with me so I was completely emotionally divorced from what I am seeing on the screen."
Despite such an underwhelming response from zombie purists and the writer himself, World War Z attracted an audience because it provided a safe space for people to realize their underlying apocalyptic woes. That being said, the film left a lot to be desired in the eyes of fans. Fortunately, this is where David Fincher comes into play.
If Anyone Can Save The Zombie Genre In Hollywood, It's David Fincher.
World War Z was undeniably a financial success, but Marc Foster took significant liberties to prioritize the film as a disaster movie. This year, The Mummy proved to be another example of turning age-old horror into action. The box-office figures and critical consensus tell us that despite Tom Cruise's efforts, the movie didn't connect with a broad audience. This asks questions as to just how Universal's Dark Universe should be. The same question can also be applied to movies such as World War Z.
World War Z began a few hours away before the epidemic hit. This forced the characters to move swiftly, causing the audience to become emotionally cut-off from the film's leading characters. If Train to Busan, or even Planet Terror, has proven anything, it's the importance of character building in the film's early stages. As World War Z has provided a primary setup for our protagonists, Fincher will surely look to build on this aspect.
As zombies are essentially an instrument of horror, Fincher will look to utilize the brooding atmospherics that are synonymous with the director. World War Z had some nerve-wracking sequences, but in a manner that was reminiscent of the action genre, rather than horror. However, if sequences such as this car scene (below) in Se7en are an indicator for things to come, then Fincher's minimal camera movements in confined spaces will certainly leave a lasting impression among horror fans.
Fincher will hopefully be reimagining the overall image of World War Z's zombies and their mannerisms. Although the mounting pyramid of zombies was an eye-catching image, it wasn't the least bit horrifying. The zombies usually came in herds and the film's use of shaky cam often made the monsters indistinguishable. Even though World War Z's zombies are quick and rabid, in order to further immerse fans into the dreaded world, Fincher is likely to consider the use of talented make-up artists, despite being a director that often favors cutting edge CGI.
Although this will be the director's second attempt at a sequel (the first being Alien 3), Fincher's expertise will help rebrand the franchise, and hopefully change how Hollywood utilizes the zombie sub-genre. Considering the director's previous achievements, David Fincher is perfectly capable of combining character-driven moments, memorable action sequences and classic horror.
Do you think David Fincher is the right person to direct World War Z 2? Let me know in the comments!