…are the zombies.
No, Seriously. The early zombies movies were rife with social commentary, but as the years have gone by the zombies have evolved and changed in their use in media. Unlike other monsters like vampires or werewolves, zombies are now a force of nature. An unstoppable wave of death that cannot be escaped, only postponed. Perhaps they are now symbolic of our fears of global warming and various other forms of natural degradation caused by us, but I wouldn’t be too quick to jump on that bandwagon. That isn’t the focus of this post.
The zombies themselves should never be the focus to any zombie story, movie, or game. All forms of media that focus on the zombies become derivative and hollow. These undead creatures become a mechanism for forcing the characters to band together and face life or death situations. You could replace the zombies with a natural disaster. An earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami would cause the same results and be just as deadly.
It’s the characters that are truly the focus of these stories. How they interact, connect, argue, and either persevere, or fatally fail. A movie that is nothing but some nameless people slaying zombies can be fun for a while, but wont have any depth. What will hold people’s attention and be remembered is how the characters interact. A great zombie movie could have two people struggling to trust each other and ration food during the zombie apocalypse, yet never show a single zombie.
However, this doesn’t mean that all zombie stories should put zombies on the sidelines or make humans out to be the greater monsters in comparison. Every time I see this happen it is exceptionally ham-fisted. The second episode of TellTale Game’s ‘The Walking Dead’ is a perfect example (I love that game, it was just episode 2 that bugged me). I’ll avoid spoilers and simply say that it introduced some characters that were needlessly bad, stupidly so. You can have characters that cant get along, and even characters that have drastically opposed morality, but they don’t need to be worse than the hordes of undead.
That is what I am hoping to see when the movie World War Z comes out. In the right hands, it will be amazing. In the wrong hands it will be Resident Evil 6: The movie. Only time will tell.