Has any other film reviled in the evisceration of the human (or in this case inhuman) body with such fervent, fetishistic joy? Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland feels less like an action comedy and more like a snuff film for the especially perverse undead quarters of society. Blood spews forth from every orifice; gizzards are devoured like rope licorice. Now this isn’t the most violent film I’ve ever seen, but it is certainly one of the only films in which the infliction of violence (gut-churning violence) brings people together. And to that I say … finally!
So anyway, remember when the world became infested with ravenous zombies? Well, Zombieland is a historical recount of this international disaster. The hero of this specific tale is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a teenage loner who has learnt to survive on the post-apocalyptic planet by following a strict set of rules. These include good cardio, avoiding bathrooms and figuring out the best escape route from every location. As he treks back to his hometown in Ohio, Columbus runs into a rogue warrior by the name of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Seems that Tallahassee is on a mission of his own. He wants to find the world’s last Twinkie. Columbus is dubious of the campaign, but as Tallahassee reminds him, “you’ve got to appreciate the little things”. When the final Twinkie proves to be more elusive than anticipated, they learn to appreciate the next best thing: the wholesale slaughter of zombies.
The very funny Eisenberg gives his best Michael Cera impression here and it works big time. His awkward delivery and pitch-perfect comic timing is perfectly accentuated alongside Harrelson (himself giving his best ‘Woody Harrelson’ impression). Their duo soon becomes a quartet when they team up with sisterly grifters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Although their introduction slows down the rollicking pace of The Columbus and Tallahassee Show, I would never chastise a film for bringing the smoldering Emma Stone into frame. She’s one of the most talented young comic actresses out there. Attention all film producers! Stop hiring Megan Fox and Jessica Alba. Let Emma Stone into the big leagues already!
Director Ruben Fleischer’s only previous credits include a film called The Girls Guitar Club, the direct-to-DVD movie Gumball 3000 and three episodes of Jimmy Kimmel Live. Where did this guy come from? Although he uses a few too many gimmicky visual flourishes, he knows how to shoot action sequences (and just as importantly, comedic sequences) with a steady hand. It is yet another impressive directorial debut in a year already swimming with them. Screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese are similarly light on impressive credentials (Wernick was a coordinating producer on Big Brother USA if that counts). However, they understand the great potential of the zombie genre and lead our characters into endlessly entertaining situations, including a detour that leads them right into one of the funniest cameos in movie history.
You could argue that the film is really about ‘family’ or ‘friendship’ or ‘romance’ or ‘finding acceptance’, because these are the elements that make up life, and thus, are the building blocks of most stories. But, life in Zombieland isn’t exactly life at all. Our four protagonists struggle to find normalcy in their situation, and although they succeed to a certain degree, it is only once they learn to accept (and enjoy) the disemboweling of their undead enemies. No, this film is not some Michael Haneke-esque lecture condemning audiences for enjoying the violence within. It is a celebration. It’s nice to see a movie in which the very fabric of society falls apart, yet humanity still soldiers on; not through feats of extreme bravery or powerful self-sacrifice, but through a sense of humour. It’s like seeing a future in which John Connor is actually a nervy, sweet-natured jokester. This is a post-apocalyptic wasteland I can get on board with.
I’m not trying to make Zombieland seem like anything more than it is; it is a dumb action film smartly made. Sure, it’s not as scary or as effective a social satire as genre maestro George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead. But at least it’s not drowning in overwrought and muddled commentary like his later films. Zombieland is a rollercoaster ride of a movie. And I mean that almost literally, what with the film’s finale taking place amongst the rides at an abandoned theme park. In a year when not even fighting robots or GI Joes could muster much more than a yawn, I’m glad the year can end on as high a note as this.