Zombies have either oversaturated pop-culture and media or there’s just not been many good entertainment examples with zombies in it. Most zombies films usually end up taking the direct-to-video route or, even worse, the direct-to-cable path. The very good films about zombies are very limited in numbers. For every Shaun of the Dead we get truly awful examples like Zombie Wars, Automaton Transfusion and the Day of the Dead remake. I blame this flood of bad zombie films on what makes the zombie such an interesting monster for filmmakers to use: they’re a blank slate. The zombie as envisioned by Romero are quite young in comparison to other monsters of film. They do not have the culturual and mythical history of vampires and werewolves.
Zombie films are easy to make thus we get every amateur filmmaker thinking they’re the next Romero, pick up a digital camera and attempt to make the next zombie c!assic. What we get instead are dregs which give the genre a bad name. It is a breath of fresh air that Ruben Fleischer (using a screenplay penned by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) has made a zombie film which deserves to be seen in a theater and not on video or cable. Zombieland is a fun and hilarious romp which succeeds in delivering what it’s preceding hype had promised and ends up being a very good film despite first-time jitters from a first-time filmmaker.
Zombieland makes no bones about what it’s about right from the get-go. This is not a film where the audience watches the world fight for its existence against the growing undead. No, this film drops the audience to a world that’s beyond gone to hell and one that now belongs to the zombies which explains the title. We’re quickly introduced to the rules which now governs this new world. With narration from the film’s first lead (played by Jesse Eisenberg) we learn the so-called “rules” of how to survive zombieland. There’s a funny and inventive use of on-screen reminders of these rules throughout the film which looks similar to the captions Youtube uploaders add to their videos. The film quickly introduces Columbus’ (the film’s narrator) soon-to-be partner-in-survival. Where Columbus is quite obsessive-compulsive and more than just a touch cowardly Tallahassee (in a hilarious turn by Woody Harrelson) is the reckless, A-type personality and more than the opposite of Columbus. These two unlikely pair soon meet up with a pair of sisters who also happens to be veteran grifters who, on more than one occassion, give our hapless duo trouble in their journey through a devastated landscape.
The film has been called a zombie comedy and will be compared to the successful British zombie-comedy, Shaun of the Dead. While some are not wrong to compare Fleischer’s film to Wright’s the comparison really ends at both being zombie-comedies. While Wright’s film was a zombie film with comedic aspects mixed in it was first and foremost a horror film. Zombieland is the opposite and the way it starts, unfolds and finishes it’s really a comedy road trip like the National Lampoon Vacation films but this time with zombies instead of in-bred relatives, clueless motorists and tourist-traps. The film is quite funny froom beginning to end with the funniest and most hilarious being a surprise cameo of a well-known comedic actor playing himself right around the beginning of the second-half. This sequence got the most laughs and cleverly played up this actor’s particular quirks. Most of the comedy and gags in the film comes courtesy of the aforementioned rules and the interaction between the characters of Columbus, Tallahassee and the two con sisters, Wichita and Little Rock (they use the city of their origins for names throughout the film).
While the film’s story is quite basic what Fleischer and his small cast were able to do with them they did well. There really wasn’t a false note in any of the actors’ performances. Eisenberg and Harrelson played off each other well right from the time the two meet. Emma Stone as the punk-rock older sister Wichita to the younger Little Rock played by wunderkind child actor Abigail Breslin (girl has a future beyond her child role past). The road-trip of a story even has its own little quirks from Tallahassee’s irreverent quest for the final stock of Twinkies to the sisters’ goal of reaching the West Coast and an amusement park called Pacific Playland rumored to be free of the zombie menace.
Zombieland is not without its flaws. Some of the editing in the climacting reel of the film was to uneven at times. There were instances when the film was close to being bogged down but fortunately it never came to that end. The violence and gore in the film wasn’t as high as one would think for a film about zombies that have literally devoured the world. One could almost sense that the filmmakers were hedging their bet when it came to the grue and violence. It seemed as if they were being overly cautious about trying to get an R-rating instead of an NC-17. The film barely makes it past the PG-13 territory. While these flaws could be attributed to jitters and a somewhat unsure first-time director in the overall execution of the film all involved did very well in sticking to the plan.
Even the look of the film makes it seem more big-budgeted than it really was (rumored to be between 9-10 million). Most filmmakers with years to decades of experience make a mess of trying to shot a film fully inn HD using HD-cameras, but Fleischer and his cinematographer Michael Bonvillain acquit themselves in their use of Sony’s Gensis HD camera. The film looks crisp and clear, but without the glaring rough edges HD sometimes gives a film. The use of the Genesis camera makes possible the well-done intro sequence done in slo-mo to the tune of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.
Zombieland is a good start to what could be a very promising career for one Ruben Fleischer. There’s skill in his work on this film despite some nitpicks that could be seen as flaws. The film in the end was very funny and fun to watch from start to end. While to story was very simplified (this probably helped in minimizing the pitfalls Fleischer had to avoid in his first major film production) with characters that was fleshed out just enough for the audience to connect with the final product delivered on the hypse which preceded this film. Zombie film fans would get a huge laugh and kick out of this very quick under-90 minute production while even those who are not into zombies much would still find themselves laughing and being entertained. Zombieland may not be scary in comparison to some of the great zombie films of past but it more than makes up for that with energy, life and a genius of a cameo scene that would be the talk of the town.