Zombies have been a popular element of the horror genre since George A. Romero released “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” in the ‘60s and they have grown even more in popularity in recent years. The problem with Romero’s zombies was that they were slow and deliberate and not really that scary in this day and age, but that all changed with Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” which featured for the first time, fast Zombies. That trend has carried on with movies like Zach Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” but another trend began with the release of Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead,” funny Zombie movies. “Zombieland” falls somewhere between the two, with fast Zombies and a realistic sense that this is really happening while at the same time having all the fun and humor of “Shaun of the Dead” without the tongue and cheek attitude.
The film features an intriguing performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus, a lone survivor of a world now infested by Zombies. Columbus has created a list of rules on “How-to-kill-Zombies” that has kept him alive so far. Most of the rules involve running away or some other non-confrontational form of escaping. Eisenberg narrates the beginning and does a great job of inadating the audience to this post-apocalyptic world. Soon he meets Tallahassee, a badass loner played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson, and the two team-up to go across country together and kick Zombie ass. On the way they encounter Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), a sister con-artist team that try to take advantage of the men. After a few false starts, the sisters convince Columbus and Tallahassee to help them get to an amusement park in California that is supposedly Zombie free. On the way Tallahassee looks for Twinkies (a snack he is obsessed with), Columbus and Wichita flirt, they kill lots of Zombies and even manage to have fun while they’re at it.
The film is just all-out fun. The movie gets off to a powerful start with an introduction to this world as Eisenberg explains the rules of surviving a Zombie attack. First time director, Ruben Fleisher, shows outstanding promise with this film and I enjoyed many of his editorial choices. For instance, the graphics that indicates the rules and pop-up throughout the film when one is observed plays beautifully and enhances the film. His use of sick-twisted, humorous-violence is a breath of fresh air and makes you wonder how this movie even got by the censors. It’s a really fun ride that doesn’t let you down. The script is clearly, smart and clever and has a sense of irony that you can feel throughout the film. It takes the world that has been created very seriously and in a realistic manner, but injects the film with an outrageous sense of fun and humor, without playing directly for laughs and yet you always get a sense that the characters are keenly aware of just how F-ed up this all is.
The cast is fantastic. Eisenberg does an excellent job of leading the film and creates a character that you both root for and can relate to. In just a few short films Eisenberg has really made a name for himself as an interesting young actor to keep an eye on. Emma Stone is excellent as the love interest in the film and even comes off pretty badass herself, showing off a “Sara Connor” side that we haven’t seen before from her. Stone has a unique appeal and although she’s played the love interest in movies before, she really has an opportunity to do more here and show off her ability to be a leading lady. Also, her deadpan sarcasm fit the role perfectly. Equally believable was Academy Award Nominee Abigail Breslin as a strong young girl dealing with growing up in this new world. She is particularly believable in a difficult scene that introduces her character early in the film.
But the true breakout star of this film is Woody Harrelson. It seems like the extremely likable actor has been missing from the spotlight for sometime but has been popping up a lot lately and it’s a very welcomed return. Harrelson is reminiscent of his “Natural Born Killer” days in this role but brings a wisdom and restraint to the part that was missing from his earlier performance. While brining the humor necessary for the character Harrelson kicks about as much Zombie ass as you can imagine in this film and is completely believable doing it, no matter how ridicules the circumstance may be. Whether it was all in the script or if it had a lot to do with the actor playing the role, Harrelson creates a completely original character that soon won’t be forgot in American cinema.
It’s important to note a few more things about the film but I will be careful not to give anything away. SPOILERS AHEAD. The final scene in the amusement park is breathtaking and extremely scary at the same time. The production team did an amazing job of pulling that off. Also keep your eyes open for a killer Zombie Clown. He looks so demented and twisted it’s fantastic. Finally, there is a cameo in this movie that is hilarious and will completely amaze you. Dare I say one of the best cameos ever in a film? It’s actually a pretty big part and I would say more than just a cameo. It is such an unusual choice but so perfect for the tone of the film and the actor (or actress) does an amazing job of making the appearance make sense. People will be talking about this for a long time, so don’t tell your friends. SPOILERS OVER.
In the end “Zombieland” is the perfect movie for this Halloween season. It has all the fun and gore that you would want from a Zombie film while doing something completely new and original. You won’t feel like you’ve seen this movie before. With smart direction, a great script, killer effects and outstanding performances by the actors, it seems like this movie should really resonate with a wide audience and be fun for fans and non-fans of the genre alike.