You see? You just can’t trust anyone. The first girl I let into my life and she tries to eat me.
To be completely honest, I am usually not a fan of horror movies. The suspense I can handle, but the gore can often be just too much. The last decade has seen it’s fair share of more and more realistic gore in scary movies and for many of those movies, it becomes overkill (forgive the pun). Still, I can overlook over-the-top violence when the gore is used for a reason and the story, dialogue and characters are both fun and meaningful. Zombieland is that kind of film and more.
For all extensive purposes, the zombie apocalypse has won. In the few months since the beginning of the outbreak (which spawned from diseased hamburger meat), the majority of the human race has either been eaten alive or have become the eaters. When Straight-laced 20-something Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and zombie killer extraordinaire Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) meet sisters Little Rock and Wichita (Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone) in what used to be Texas, they somewhat reluctantly start on a road trip to what used to be California to find some kind of safe haven, which the sisters believe is in an abandoned theme park.
The four characters are so much fun to watch, partially because they represent the different kinds of people who would most easily survive the zombie outbreak (and for the record, I am completely frank about the unlikelihood of my surviving such a disaster). Columbus might be scrawny and a devoted WoW player in his past life, but he has a strict set of rules which he follows by the book. His first scene shows how good he had gotten at avoiding becoming dinner (all while trying to find a safe bathroom). On the other hand, Tallahassee has absolutely no rules. All he wants to do is find a box of Twinkies before they are gone and kill as many zombies as many ways as possible and this kind of reckless joy is surprisingly effective. And the sisters… well, let’s just say the sisters have integrated their natural resourcefulness and even deception into their survival tactics and it works to their advantage.
The cast is a small one, but each actor fits really well with their character. Eisenberg (best known for this year’s Adventureland) plays the realistic neurotic very well. His narration worked perfectly and he knows how to play the straight man without being boring. I’m pretty sure the role of Tallahasse was hand-crafted for Harrelson. It’s an awesome character and it reminds me of roles Harrelson has played before, but easily the most fun to watch. As the movie unfolds, you discover just what Tallahasse has lost and why he so enjoys demolishing the walking dead. Breslin completely stole my heart in Little Miss Sunshine in 2006, but she has been playing it safe the last few years (mostly kids movies and romantic comedies). In Zombieland, she balances a character that is both a legitimate, gun wielding zombie survivor and a regular 12 year old girl (there is a wonderful moment where she is desperately trying to explain the logistics of Hannah Montana to the others). She’s not whiny or bratty, but she still acts like a kid. This is an awesome departure for Breslin and I think this could take her to another level in her career. Stone was great as the smart, hardened girl that Columbus can’t help but be attracted to. During my Transformers 2 review, I mentioned how I want to see more actresses that don’t rely on just their sexuality, so Stone’s role was refreshing. Pineapple Express’s Amber Heard has a nice little role in a flashback as Columbus’ dorm room neighbor. School of Rock writer Mike White is seen in a couple different flashbacks as an unfortunate gas attendant. And while I refuse to ruin it for my readers, Zombieland has one of my favorite cameos of all time. Let me put it this way… Tallahasse is an avid movie buff and his reaction is priceless.
The direction and style of this movie is pretty brilliant. It has a good pace throughout the film, with backstory put in at just the right places. The opening credits (which featured scenes that interacted with the words) were fun. That same kind of text comes up throughout the film whenever Columbus talks about his rules for surviving (which I am positive will become classic movie lines in themselves). What I love is that those rules pop up even when Columbus is not narrating but when these rules are being applied by the characters. The text almost has a mind of it’s own and it’s fun to wait for.
There were only a few things that threw me off. The zombies were a little fast for me. I realize these are not the Romero “slow crawling” zombies, but the undead in this movie have been around for a few months by the time the movie starts. You’d think their limbs would have gotten some wear and tear, but all the zombies seem to run extremely well. You don’t see many limps. In fact, all the zombies have around the same amount of physical damage. I would have like to see more inconsistencies in how the zombies looked and moved. I also felt like the four main characters were rarely in need of more bullets or gas. Granted, there are plenty of abandoned cars all around them and Tallahasse and Columbus find a surplus of ammunition in one of those cars early on in the movie, but there never seems to be a worry about running out of such necessary supplies. These are small details, I realize, but it still bothered me. The last 20 minutes or so are perhaps a little weaker that the rest of the movie. It starts to feel like many other zombie movies, but it is fun to watch Tallahasee get creative when using the actual theme park to kill zombies. And if you really can’t stand gore, I can understand why you might get turned off by the movie in general, but if I can handle it, you probably can, too. Many of the more gruesome killing shots cut away before you see anything too nasty, so that helped me a little. Like I said before, the gore is used for a reason and isn’t over done in my opinion.
While this movie owes so much to it’s zombie comedy predecessor Shaun of the Dead (which is genius on it’s own level), Zombieland is far from a copy. While Shaun (like many traditional zombie movies) is about dealing with the beginning of the outbreak, Zombieland is really about what happens when the apocalypse becomes a part of everyday life. So much of this film feels like a road trip movie that just happens to be set around zombies. Because of this, the threat of the undead is not the focus. Instead, it’s the four main characters and their relationships with each other. Because zombies aren’t popping out every five minutes, we also get to see the characters relax and have some fun, which is a little novel in a zombie movie. Something I noticed was that, except for the last 20 minutes of the film, the zombies are only seen three or four at a time. Because there are so few human characters, the setting feels very empty and lonely. And beside the ability to quickly adapt in a high stress situation like the zombie apocalypse, these four people pride themselves on being loners who don’t trust easily. No one gives their real names, instead calling each other by the city they were most connected to in their past to protect themselves from getting hurt. It’s part of the reason why they’ve survived, but it’s also the reason they’re so miserable. Part of the joy of this movie is watching these characters discover that they’ve started to form a family.
Overall: A near perfect balance of hilarity, gore and real emotion, Zombieland is one of my favorite films of the year.
4 1/2 out of 5