– Summary –
Director : Ruben Fleischer
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Bill Murray
Approx Running Time : 88 Minutes
Synopsis: The world is decimated by a virus that turns almost everyone into zombies. Except for a poor, unlucky few, who must survive it.
What we think : Hilarious, spot-on horror-comedy that feels fresh and exciting after decades of zombie films – Zombieland is terrific entertainment, and destined to be a cult classic in years to come, if it isn’t already.
I’m not entirely sure exactly why zombies make for good comedy fodder, but they do. After Shaun of The Dead reinvigorated the splatter-comedy genre almost single-handedly, director Ruben Fleischer has given us Zombieland, a more Hollywood-ised version of the same kind of film: the Earth is decimated by zombies (damn you Mad Cow Disease!) and a few lone survivors must band together to reach some sort of safe haven. Along the way, a social commentary takes place highlighting the fact that even at our most frightened, we seek solace in our fellow man, shooting the walking undead and generally behaving like unrepentant anarchists. Zombieland isn’t trying to be politically correct, nor is it trying to generate laughs from any kind of visual slapstick aesthetic, rather, it’s a mix of both intellectual and physical comedy which delivers the entertainment here. I’d heard good reports about this film, not only from zombie purists but from casual viewers as well, those without a vested interest in the splatter fest unleashed upon us.
College student “Columbus” (Jessie Eisenberg) is travelling across a post-apocalyptic USA to Columbus, Ohio, to find his parents. According to his narration (and some quite cool visual cues), the world has been all but annihilated by a zombie-like virus derived from a mutated form of Mad Cow Disease, leaving only a handful of survivors. Along the way, Columbus meets Tallahasse (Woody Harrelson), who is on his own quest to find any and all remaining Twinkies (for non-US viewers, a Twinkie is like a cream filled bun, renowned for its long-lasting… ahem… freshness…) and taking down any zombies he comes across. They decide to join forces, and become traveling companions, until they meet Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) at a supermarket, where the boys are conned into handing over their weapons. The girls take off, leaving Columbus and Tallahasse unarmed and desperate to find a way to escape potential zombie encounters. Eventually, however, Tallahasse and Columbus catch up with the girls, who are trying to get to Pacific Playland, an amusement park on the west coast, in a last ditch effort to feel human again. Along the way, they stop in at Bill Murray’s house, and kill off a whole lot of zombies.
Zombieland is a pretty easy film to like. It’s got plenty of wry, socially pointed humor, some deft physical turns of violence in the face of zombie-film conventions, and one hell of a cameo from Bill Murray. The story itself isn’t exactly new: it’s a Quest film mixed with a hint of Apocalypse movie, sprinkled with a few moments of pathos and comedy, and enough style to make you almost forget the lack of genuine character development on offer here. Fleischer invigorates the slim plot with a wry turn of humor with the set-pieces: the use of Rules by Columbus as he travels across the country, rules to survive by, provide both the comedic and the expectant – the ease with which the zombies can be defeated is both a source of comedy and a source of drama, because they aren’t easily defeated without a comprehensive evisceration. Tallahasse’s self-centered character also generates plenty of laughs, even if Harrelson’s uneven portrayal of a man beset with an enormous grief sometimes slides into almost self-parody. Harrelson’s having fun here, though, which means the audience is too. Social Network star Jessie Eisenberg is resolutely the straight man here, the “voice of reason” Everyman character around which the film’s narrative pivots. Eisenberg is practically the same character in almost every film he’s in, and Zombieland is no different, although, as with Social Network, the casting fits the character perfectly.
Emma Stone, as Wichita, and Abigail Breslin, as Little Rock, don’t get as many laughs, nor do they have much in the way of character development, so attaching yourself emotionally to them as characters is a little difficult; the fact they also behave like complete bitches to emasculate our boys is annoying after the third or fourth time. Meanwhile, it’s taken me far too long to mention the best bit of this entire film: the extended cameo by one comedy legend, Bill Murray, as himself. If there was ever a single reason to watch a film, it’s Murray’s gut-busting turn here. He’s hilarious, as usual, as the kinda zombie you actually wanna meet, and although he’s barely in the film, his appearance actually improves upon something already pretty damn good.
Where the film derives a lot of its subversive humor is in the post-apocalyptic relationship breakdowns of the characters – these aren’t people who’d normally be drawn to each other, and although through circumstance they’re forced to this time, it’s begrudgingly, with a sense of last-of-humanity fatalism. The script feels loosely cobbled together, almost haphazard at times, although that wasn’t the case in actuality. It just feels like it, feels organic and realistic, if this actually happened and these people actually existed. Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s script is a laugh, a hoot, and absolutely the way zombiepocalypse should be written. There’s a hint of Shaun of The Dead humor, touches of Dawn of The Dead (Romero, not Snyder) and 28 Days Later, although the carnage and “horror” aspects are portrayed highly tongue-in-cheek and without the stomach churning sense of absolute reality those other classics had in spades.
Zombieland is nothing if not enjoyable: the humor and casual observances in post-apocalypse USA are both subtle and definitive, and altogether hilarious. This is, without doubt, one of the funniest horror/comedy films to come out in quite a while, and it while comparisons with Shaun of The Dead are inevitable, they’re also accurate – Zombieland does for American zombie films what Shaun of The Dead did for those in England. If you only watch one zombie film this year, make it this one.