Should I Watch..? 'Zombieland' (2009)
What's the big deal?
Zombieland is an action comedy horror film released in 2009 and is the debut film from director Ruben Fleischer. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as four survivors of a zombie apocalypse attempting a cross-country road-trip to an apparent safe zone. Taking its cues from the British film Shaun Of The Dead, the film offers a light-hearted look at the perils and pitfalls of trying to survive a zombie epidemic whilst indulging in elaborate acts of violence without consequence. Despite a limited budget, the film became a surprise hit and would overtake Zach Snyder's 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead to become the highest grossing zombie film in the US - a title lost to the big-budgeted World War Z when it was released in 2013.
What's it about?
Two months after the United States is hit by a zombie pandemic, survivors are struggling to adapt to their ravaged environment. They've learnt not to form attachments to other survivors due to the extremely high risk of death at any minute and so become known for their home town instead. Determined to check to see if his parents have survived, college student Columbus heads off from Austin, Texas but quickly bumps into the antisocial Tallahassee - a man more than comfortable with killing zombies. They form an unlikely partnership and set off together.
The pair are soon ambushed by two young girls - Wichita and Little Rock - who steal supplies from the boys and head off to California where a theme park is reputed to be free from zombies. Columbus and Tallahassee soon catch up with them and form an uneasy alliance before heading off to the Golden State. But is the Pacific Playland really the safe haven they believe and just what the heck is wrong with Bill Murray?
What's to like?
Zombies have become increasingly popular in cinema due to the fact that a zombie film is going to be a low budget affair and people enjoy watching stuff on TV like The Walking Dead. Zombieland takes this concept one step further, reducing them to comic stooges whilst our heroes indulge in some excessive, cartoony violence to finish them off. Comparisons between this and Shaun Of The Dead are inevitable but that's no bad thing - both movies offer a winning combination of likeable characters, irreverent humour and gore-soaked ultra-violence that would have traditional censors running for the exits.
The cast do a good job - Stone and Eisenberg's budding romance seems happy to play second-fiddle to Harrelson's Twinkie-hunting redneck - but Murray's cameo as himself is superb and is possibly the best cameo by an actor I've ever seen. In fact, his appearance is the film's undoubted highlight. It perfectly matches the tone of the movie, one which isn't going to take itself too seriously. I thought the Zombie Kill Of The Week was a nice touch, even if it did betray its TV show origins. It signals to those viewers unsure if they're watching a genuine horror film that they are in safe hands - there won't be too many scares to be found here.
- The script was originally for a proposed TV pilot but was revised when it became a feature film. The Zombie Kill Of The Week feature was one idea that survived the transition.
- Woody Harrelson was once arrested in Columbus, Ohio before he became famous. He was also arrested for marijuana possession during filming, which delayed the shoot by a day.
- Breslin & Stone have both played characters called Olive in previous movies and both have brothers called Spencer. They have also both been nominated for acting Oscars as have Harrelson, Eisenberg and Murray.
What's not to like?
Trouble is, genuine horror fans will be put off by the film's comedic touches. There are precious few moments in Zombieland when the four feel in any kind of danger, unlike Shaun Of The Dead where the zombie element is genuinely off-putting and uncomfortable despite the laughs. It doesn't have much of a tale to tell beyond the usual escape-from-zombies story while the romantic subplot feels tacked on at the last minute in the editing suite. The film also isn't as funny as its British inspiration and obviously, it isn't as original either.
Despite the impressive credentials of its cast, neither are the four leads as good as Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and the rest. The only character you really root for is Tallahassee because he's a mean son-of-a-gun who adapts a little too well to the setting - Columbus feels too whiny and his goodie-two-shoes rules begin to annoy after a while. Little Rock doesn't contribute much to the film at all while Wichita is only really there to provide a love interest for Columbus. I wanted the film to walk its own path a bit more instead of feeling like a lazy US remake of Shaun Of The Dead. But it didn't and by sticking too closely to its spiritual inspiration, it looks weaker in almost every respect.
Should I watch it?
It might not be as clever or funny as it thinks it is but Zombieland is a pleasant enough destination with enough gags, gore and ultra-violence to satisfy the most jaded viewers. Murray steals the show with his appearance (in every sense) but the film offers an alternative look at the end of the world and, to paraphrase Michael Stipe, it feels fine.
Great For: people who don't really like horror that much, action fans, American viewers
Not So Great For: anyone who has already seen Shaun Of The Dead, anyone who enjoyed Garfield
What else should I watch?
Zombie comedies have been around for some time now but the emphasis was usually on the horror aspect. George Romero's hugely influential Dawn Of The Dead had some comic moments (certainly compared to its more straight-faced predecessor Night Of The Living Dead) but isn't exactly what you'd call light entertainment. The same can be said for Romero's follow-up Day Of The Dead but in Peter Jackson's early effort Braindead, the emphasis is switched so that the material was played for crude laughs instead.
In case you'd somehow missed the point during my review, the British film Shaun Of The Dead was a sublime blend of humour, romance and genuinely scary zombies roaming around London. But it's not just a comedy film with zombies - the shuffling brain-munchers are actually pretty brutal when it comes to lunch time and the film contains several blood-soaked moments that would make casual horror viewers' stomachs churn. Getting pulled through a window and having your entrails pulled out will do that, you know.
Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Release Date (UK)
7th October, 2009
© 2015 Benjamin Cox