Two summers ago I had the opportunity to participate in what promises to be one of this year’s blockbusters. When I got the phone call from the casting department to join the team of extras in World War Z, I wasn’t exactly eager to accept the offer. It was towards the end of June, and the sweltering summer days had already started. The prospect was made more daunting upon discovering that I would be dressed in a long-sleeved tunic and a veil. But then again, being an extra in a popular production was something that I had always dreamed of, and so far every opportunity that had come knocking at my door had to be turned down due to the unfortunate clash with exam period. After cogitating on the options over a few bowls of ice-cream, I decided it was high time that I stepped out of my comfort zone and did something a little bit ‘extraordinary’.
The seven days that followed have been the longest in my life so far. The alarm used to go off at half past three in the morning, and by five I would be having breakfast with the rest of the extras at the assembly point. Queuing at the costume department to have the veil securely pinned around my head was always a bit cumbersome, especially on those occasions when the effect of that strong cup of coffee wouldn’t have yet kicked in. All extras used to be transported to the filming location by seven, but sometimes shooting wouldn’t even have started until after lunchtime. However, I was lucky enough to befriend a group of nice people, whose wonderful company made those long hours in the extras’ resting area waiting to be called on set more bearable.
Despite being shot in different locations around Valletta, we were always instructed to carry out the same action; run, scream, and run even faster. But there was nothing to run from, and yet, some were roughly jostled out of the way, ankles were sprained and twisted, and the weak got trampled on.
The day the special effects and a group of stuntmen were brought in was the day that left me feeling completely drained and disheartened to return on set the following day. But as the evening sun shed its last golden rays on the fortresses bordering Malta’s panoramic Grand Harbour, and our coaches arrived at the gate to take us back to the preparation hall, we were duly informed that the filming was completely over. My heart sank. I collected my time-sheet and bid the final goodbye to the place that had become my home for almost a whole week.
As I tucked myself into bed that night with my sore legs propped up, I couldn’t stop replaying the day’s events in my head. The buses used on the set were forcefully toppled over and dragged for about five metres behind the sprinting crowd. Their windows shattered into thousands of sugar pieces at our feet. Helicopters circled above us, their deafening roars drowning our staged screams. I jumped out of my skin at the series of shots fired by the soldiers surrounding us. At 8pm the assistant director finally called it a day. The set had been dismantled. My adventure was regretfully over.
Needless to say, the start of this summer was marked by my anticipation for the film’s premier. The day had finally arrived, but when I checked the schedule at the local cinemas, I was immediately struck by sheer disappointment and fury. The film was out in 3D in all cinemas. As much as I had been excited to watch World War Z on the big screen, I was not willing to spend at least a good two hours battling against motion sickness. I managed to curtail my excitement for another two weeks until the 2D version came out. However, every second of the film was worth the long wait.
Fear clawed my heart. I sank into my seat, dreading whatever was about to happen next. A sense of doom engulfed me. I witnessed terror in a fictional scenario, but something about the film made the horror feel extremely palpable. The film’s revolutionary take on the ‘zombie look’ has the potential to inject the audience with a new dose of fear.
Although the film follows a similar zombie formula to recent films and series based on the same paranormal subject, the zombies’ amplified agility and otherworldly strength in World War Z shocks us. The abnormal becomes outrageous. Our familiarity with this particular ‘Other,’ attained from previous zombie films, is completely erased. We are now dealing with an indestructible and destructible force, and humanity is on the verge of annihilation. This is the real terror of horror films. It doesn’t lie in unrelenting poltergeists, demonic possessions, black magic, or real hauntings. The zombies in the film represent an unforeseen and uncontrollable global crises. Just like the plague, it is a threat to our survival – a fear rooted in our primal instinct.