What to watch
And so in April 2020, we are living in a ‘mad world’. Part of the human psyche is to seek to understand our condition by immersing ourselves in the landscape. So it comes as no surprise that the second most downloaded movie from iTunes in recent times is Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011). Soderbergh’s thriller is noted for its almost dispassionate accuracy – no character is safe regardless of age or fame of its actor. The only thing it seems to get wrong is the speed at which the vaccine is created – 90 days! If only this were true. I suggest that we maintain a social distance from our fears by keeping reality at least two arm lengths’ away. This is best done by introducing zombies.
I consider Marc Forster’s World War Z (2013) to be bat sh*t crazy (pun intended). The movie itself, wastes little time in throwing us into the midst of a zombie outbreak. In a matter of minutes, we are escaping with Gerry Lane and his family from the streets of Philadelphia to temporary refuge in Newark, New Jersey. These zombies are not the slow moving masses of decaying flesh traditionally depicted – they run at full speed and with little self regard. It seems to take only a matter of hours for whole cities to be overwhelmed – the R0 here is astronomical! Fortunately, Gerry is a former UN investigator who has a friend in the UN Deputy Secretary-General. His family is rescued, but he has to pay the price by returning to the field at great personal risk, to investigate the outbreak.
The movie has 3 distinct acts. The first two acts follow Gerry as he tries to locate patient zero. This plays like a typical outbreak movie such as Contagion, albeit with patients that are a little more antagonistic. It is during the final act when Gerry finds himself separated from a possible cure by the aggressively undead, that it takes on a more usual zombie movie trope.
World War Z is loosely based on the novel by Max Brooks, son of Mel. Brad Pitt who plays Gerry Lane, secured the rights to the novel, which deliberately reads like a UN report, making it difficult to adapt. It took several attempts with different screenwriters to dramatise its contents, inevitably leading to a myriad of production issues.
Zombie movies are typically inexpensive. George A. Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead (1968) cost just over $100K and even Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) cost a pious $8M. World War Z, beset with production problems, would eventually cost a staggering (bat sh*t crazy) $190M! A zombie movie with a blockbuster budget, makes World War Z an interesting and never to be repeated experience.
For a companion piece, I thought we’d take a break from zombies and viruses and instead quietly contemplate a post-apocalyptic future. John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place (2018) was an unexpected success given Krasinski’s limited acting and directing experience in the genre. The movie provided the cinema going audience with the unique experience of having to be quiet. The crunch of popcorn reverberated deafeningly through perfectly silent theatres. Fortunately, restrictions haven’t constrained popcorn consumption on home couches.
A Quiet Place opens on day 89 of a post-apocalyptic world. We are presented with a family silently moving through a small-town store in search of prescription drugs. They are barefoot and communicate through sign language. The store shelves are ominously empty of almost everything except potato chips. It soon becomes apparent that the ‘virus’ that precipitated this disaster takes the form of violent indestructible creatures that are hyper sensitive to sound.
The movie makes use of sound, or the lack of it, to create an ever increasing sense of tension. With little use for dialogue, we are forced to hear with our eyes – requiring us not to look away. It cleverly foreshadows events through what can be referred to as ‘auditory expectations’. The wife/mother is heavily pregnant so we can anticipate an impending noise related disaster. How do you keep a small child silent?
John Krasinski and real life partner, Emily Blunt, play husband and wife. I guess little acting was required to fulfil those roles. The break out performance here comes from Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf in real life, as their deaf daughter. Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward complete the family in what is a very small cast.
The best horror draws you in personally, you must feel involved with the central protagonists. A Quiet Place does this very successfully and you will slip silently into the folds of the Abbot family. The sequel to A Quiet Place has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If it is half as good as its predecessor, it will be well worth the wait.