By Michael Walsh
Most folks tend to believe that placing zombies into any old situation can make for a watchable film, so long as you apply enough splatters of blood and gnawing of human flesh in between. I might watch it because of the zombies, but there’s no promising that it won’t be a piece of crap.
Ever since George A. Romero changed the way we looked at zombies in film with his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, the zombie has arguably been America’s favorite monster alongside the classic vampires and werewolves. Since then the genre has been nearly beaten to death, with just about everyone trying to get in on the phenomenon of our neighbors coming back to life to eat us.
Some of those trying to get into the genre just don’t belong there. It’s very easy to mess up a zombie film. As someone who began to love film with Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, I hold my breath every time Hollywood dips its fingers into the mix, praying they don’t ruin zombies the way they’ve begun to ruin vampires, turning them into emotional teenagers who care far too much about each others feelings. “I’m coming to console you, Barbara!” says the teenage heartthrob zombie to his human love interest in a Twilight-inspired zombie chick flick.
But oh boy was I able to exhale quickly at the sight of Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, a film that from the look of just its trailer seemed to get it. Briefly, Zombieland is America’s Shaun of the Dead. It’s a clever, smart and downright funny ode to the zombie infestation of our beautiful country. The land of the zombies, the home of the dead, is what you might want to change those national anthem lyrics to now.
A real brilliant idea and the source of much of the film’s humor comes from the knocking down of the fourth wall between Jesse Eisenberg’s character and the audience. His list of rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse and handing out of “zombie kill of the week” includes the audience in the storytelling as he speaks directly to us.
Eisenberg’s shut-in character works well with Woody Harrelson’s, the machismo zombie killer extraordinaire known only as Tallahassee. The two play off each other brilliantly, as Harrelson’s testosterone-fueled ambitions and Eisenberg’s safer and more timid nature present an ideal odd couple. All four characters, which includes Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin on the female side of the operation, are developed just enough to separate them from being boring cardboard characters, which is important for this film’s progression and key to becoming a memorable classic. The character relationships are a huge part of the film, and might get overlooked by most viewers.
At a brisk but perfect 80 minutes, Zombieland is a gut-buster all the way through. Sometimes literally. The zombie kills are fairly inventive and vary greatly. I don’t want to get stuck on this facet of the film for too long, but gore is really an important part of a good zombie film, and the team behind it all here has hit the mark. There are enough absolutely satisfying kills from the hands of Tallahassee and company to please veterans and newcomers of the genre alike. If you aren’t saying “Oooh!” at just about every zombie slaying, you’re most likely watching a dull film. Not the case here.
And with all the zombie brain smashing and all the funny and witty one-liners, Zombieland is a complete joyride, and one of the most fun films of its kind. This is proof enough that there are still shimmers of hope within the zombie genre. It’s a smart film that knows exactly what it wants to achieve and successfully does so, a best of both worlds of zombies and comedy.
It has since dawned on me that Zombieland is the kind of film that you really have to try to hate. Not to get overly confident with my opinion, but if you don’t enjoy this film you might be as soulless as the zombies that inhabit it.