Because all of life is stories.
What is it about horror? What possesses us to seek out and endure experiences that terrify us? There are plenty of other genres out there that entertain and still allow us to sleep at night. So why terror? Why horror? In all honesty, it isn’t my favorite genre. I prefer not to be freaked out. But there are some works that provide such a visceral thrill, that are so well done that I just can’t ignore them. World War Z is one of those novels.
Beyond being an incredibly well written novel it pulls off the horror aspect incredibly well. It reaches into all the different things that make people insecure, that make them afraid, and twists them into horrifying and rotting monsters. It goes beyond the kind of scary we see in so many movies and games today, where the fear factor is entirely made of jump cuts and pop out monsters. World War Z offers up a slower and steadier build to scare, and it pays off. It is written as a series of interviews (there’s that epistolary thing popping up again), our narrator traveling around the post-zombie world interviewing people who either had a large part in containing the plague or who just survived with particularly interesting stories to tell. His travels take us from the United States, to the Middle East, to Japan, Russia and a dozen other locales around the globe. Even though the stories vary from computer nerd to submarine captain they slowly build a compelling narrative that lets us see the history of this alternate world, and how easily ours might all come crashing down.
What makes any zombie scary isn’t really the zombie. They’re slow. They’re stupid. They can’t open doors. Or climb hills. Why are we so afraid of them? Even the more modern runner zombies still aren’t a huge threat on their own. So why so scary? It’s the setting. Zombies are a blank slate, the human but not so human canvas to paint our cultural fears on. In most stories, writers or directors have to settle for one or two. The original Day of the Dead took place in a mall because it was a critique on the dead eyed, mall walking, capitalist society around it. 28 Days Later was a subtext for biochemical attacks. World War Z has the benefit of being able to prey on any number of fears and motivations because of the sheer amount of disparate stories that make up the overarching story. Where is our government to help us in time of crisis? What if they can’t stop the disease? What is really out there in the dark? What if I don’t really know how to make it on my own, or without my parents? What if my next decision is one I regret my entire life? Could I become a killer to save my own life?
Will humanity be strong enough, and is this the end?
Each chapter pricks a different nerve about a different set of insecurities, and at times, they get to be extremely immersive. For me, it was the story about the isolate Russian outpost. You’ll probably pick a different one. But for every story that inspires dread and hopelessness in the reader, there is another that inspires faith. Whether it is in a higher power, or in yourself, or in your fellow man is up to the story.
World War Z is terrifying. It is also inspiring, compelling, heart wrenching, and fan-bleeding-tastic. Because like all great zombie stories, this isn’t really a story about zombies. This is a story about humans. It is about our greatest strengths, our greatest failings, and our greatest fears.
That is, in essence, what all good horror is really about.
Also, it’s written by the son of Mel Brooks. You know, the guy who did Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and a dozen more of the best movies ever made. He’s got his dad’s gift for telling stories. Why would you pass on that?