A comedy zombie movie. Despite the satire in Romero’s work and a few interesting other attempts over the years, it can only really bring four words to mind – Shaun of the Dead. Ruben Fleischer’s directorial debut feature will be unavoidably compared to Edgar Wright‘s 2004 masterpiece. But aside from the subject matter, the two films are quite different, with this just as all-American as “Shaun” is quintessentially British.
One thing they do have in common is that they manage to get the humour/horror ratio exactly right. The laughs keep coming, but rarely feel shoehorned in. The danger feels real, you’ll care about the characters and really hope they make it.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as a geek who managed to survive the first few months of the apocalypse mainly due to having no friends to be attached to, and a list of rules (such as Rule #18 – always limber up) that he has rigidly stuck to at all times. By this point, everyone else in his college town has been turned into ravenous killing machines, so he tries to make his way back home to Columbus, Ohio to see if his parents are still around. He’s heard that things are better out West, although it’s just as likely that people in the West have heard it’s better in the East. On his journey, he meets Woody Harrelson’s intimidating redneck, a man who seems to relish Armageddon as a chance to enjoy new and interesting ways to slay zombies. They decide not to tell each other their names, to avoid any attachment in case the worst happens, instead referring to each other by the places they’re heading to, Columbus and Tallahassee.
The stylish blood-splattered opening title sequence, set during the earlier days of the outbreak, gives the impression that the film is going to be particularly gruesome. Set to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, the spectacular use of slow motion as the flesh-eaters chase down their victims allows us to see every drop of blood spew from their mouths. It’s impossible to deny that this sequence is beautifully shot, but the blood and gore is unrelenting.
But in fact, most of the movie is not so grisly. Yes, there are the occasional encounters with zombies, with the usual scenes of them feasting on flesh and at times suffering quite brutal deaths, but at one point when Tallahassee is about to use his most horrific method of dispatching the undead, the camera looks away.
For long parts of the film you even forget the zombies exist, and it becomes a road movie, as the pair travel across America. Along the way they try to sate Tallahassee’s craving for some Twinkies, and during one trip to the supermarket they meet two more survivors, Superbad’s Emma Stone and her little sister played by Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin. The girls (who go by the pseudonyms Wichita and Little Rock) are very suspicious and distrusting at first but events conspire to ensure that the four end up on the road together.
Eisenberg, who will instantly remind you of Michael Cera, is the perfect guide to the post-apocalyptic world. A likeable loser, without the social skills to deal with humans but perfectly equipped when it comes to the undead, it’s impossible not to root for him as he makes his way across America. Harrelson strikes just the right tone throughout, menacing the first time we meet him, utterly loveable by the end.
Zombieland contains possibly my favourite cameo of all time. I won’t spoil the fun by telling you who it is, but the surprise appearance is the absolute highlight of the film and made for some of the most raucous laughter I’ve heard in a cinema for a long time.
In the final act, things rightfully get a little less funny and more action-packed, as the zombie population increases and the situation gets more serious. Full of great set-pieces and still a few hints of fun (including an example of the scariest possible type of zombie you could ever imagine), it’s a great ending to a film that is surely destined to a cult favourite to come back to time and again.
The best zombie movie since Shaun of the Dead – a crown that the film adaptation of World War Z should take when it’s released – and possibly the funniest film of 2009, Zombieland is bloody good fun*.
Zombieland, from October 7th, cinemas nationwide