In recent years an increasing number of new independent film makers have turned to cranking out horror flicks in order to get started in their chosen profession. The main type of horror that has become the default is the zombie movie. The rationale behind this decision is simple to understand. All that is needed is somebody with a modicum of talent applying undead makeup, a few friends that can lumber around and a digital camera and you’re in business. This has had the unfortunate result of greatly diluting a once proud and innovative genre. When I heard that I was to review a flick called ‘Zombieland’ I have to admit that my eyes rolled back in my head in dread. When I caught the trailer I thought it might have something to do with an amusement park featuring zombie slaughter as anattraction. I must say when I received the disc and sat down with my best friend to watch we were both very pleasantly surprised. This film was the funniest zombie flick since the hysterical ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and succeeds in considerably raising the bar for the blended genre of horror comedy. I freely admit that the movie had me laughing out loud in a fashion I have not experienced in quite awhile. Looking over I noticed it had the same effect on my friend. This is the rare conjunction of witty writing, spot on direction and the ideal cast of talented actors. Not only is this an excellent example of the genre it is an outright greatly entertaining popcorn movie. One aspect of the film that helped propel ‘Zombieland’ above the comedy pack is how the film employed a darker form of humor than typically seen in a horror oriented. Replacing the typical slapstick silly antic is a well constructed darkly humorous satire. In any case this movie delivers an evening of entertainment.
The screenplay was crafted by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Both men are fairly new to films but worked together on the semi controversial reality TV series ‘"The Joe Schmo Show" where a person was duped into believing they were on a ‘legitimate’ series. The beauty of this script is how the authors set up the post apocalyptic zombie infested world with humans that are all severely damaged emotionally. The do offer up an acceptable etiology for the undead epidemic. Apparently mad cow disease jumped into the human population where it mutating into a rapidly acting virus that turns its victims into zombies. Now these are not the traditional slow moving, barely thinking undead. They are the new age zombies that can quickly swarm over a victim in an instant. This make for a more natural and immediate threat to our hapless band of potential zombie-chow. This exposition is quickly provided making way for telling the real story. You see, the movie is not about the zombie plague as it is a road trip flick. In some ways the zombies are a form of MacGuffin; vital to the characters but only ancillary plot devices for the audience. What matters here is how Reese and Wernick use the zombie infestation as the catalyst for the character arcs. Each of the principle characters is afforded an opportunity to grow and develop a refreshing change from the typical one dimensional stereotypes frequently employed in a standard horror flick.
Once the virus mutated it spread incredibly fast until the infected far outnumbered normal people. In hopes that the conditions are better somewhere else some of the survivors hit the road for the proverbial green pastures. One thing that is sacrificed is normal social conventions such as mutual introductions. Many have learned that relationships are especially fleeting when friends and family can suddenly turn into blood thirsty creatures, in the movie the use of proper names is replaced by a location closely associated with an individual. The protagonist, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is on the road searching for his parents to see if they are okay. Key to his survival is a list of rules that he adheres to diligently such as ‘cardio’ and double tap (running and shooting Zombies twice.) one of the first people he meets along the way is Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Ostensibly he is looking for a safe haven but his true mission is to find his much loved snack food ‘Twinkies’. Of course that search affords him with ample opportunity for one of his favorite past times; killing Zombies. At one stop they encounter a young woman, Wichita (Emma Stone) who tells them her kid sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) has been infected and wants to borrow their gun to do what is necessary. Once she has the weapon Wichita turns it on the guys and the girls take off after stealing everything of value they have. Naturally the truck breaks down and the guys meet up with the feisty ladies again and a begrudging alliance is formed. That eventually leads to a budding romance between Wichita and Columbus.
This is a lot of fun to watch and much of the entertainment value comes from this extraordinary cast. Eisenberg is rapidly capturing the attention of the public by bringing a new dimension to the nerd character. He excelled in ‘Juno’ as the boyfriend and deported himself extremely well in such popular favorites as ‘Nick and Nora’s infinite Playlist’. He also demonstrated a serious side in works including ‘The Education of Charlie Banks’. Here he broadens his range to include dark comedy in an action format. Most people are already familiar with the young talent of Abigail Breslin. Since her breakthrough role in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ she has been going from one prize role to another. She turned thirteen during the filming of this movie. Now that she is beginning to get tween roles it is great to see she is avoiding the hackney cheerleader roles. Of course Harrelson brings his unique brand of zaniness to the proceedings with note able effect.