There seems to be a new zombie film every year at the moment which means even greater pressure to churn out something with a degree of originality. Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland promised to be a horror comedy and immediately my thoughts drifted to Shaun of the Dead (2004), which has lost none of its appeal. My hopes were that Zombieland would be a comedy equal if not better than the British classic.
The film follows the progress of student Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) who is one of few survivors of a disease that has swept across America and turned the majority of people into zombies. Travelling across a largely desolate America, Columbus is heading to Columbus, Ohio (where else?) to see if his parents are still alive. He hooks up with Tallahasse (Woody Harrelson) who is on a mission to locate the world’s last Twinkie, and sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who are heading west for the Pacific Playland Amusement Park. With personal differences, the quartet makes a road trip through the zombie-infested land in pursuit of their mutual goals but do they make it?
We begin with the company of Columbus who has survived the zombie apocalypse thanks to a series of rules he has compiled which are displayed frequently on screen as our unorthodox hero bumbles his way from one catastrophe to another. Such rules as checking the back seat of your car for zombies, not being a hero even when temptation threatens to cloud your reason, and the very important double-tap used on felled zombies to make sure they definitely are dead. Columbus is a loner, finding sanctuary in his home and in World of Warcraft but the arrival of the zombies leaves him with no choice but to set out on the road. His encounter with Tallahasse is your classic comedy combo with the shy student being anxiously verbose while his battle-hardened friend looks like he might snap at any moment, his obsession for Twinkies being the only thing of any importance to him. Throughout the film you’ll enjoy some great set-pieces such as highways with abandoned cars, seemingly empty supermarkets with isolated zombies waiting to pounce and even a trip to Bill Murray’s house for good measure!
Columbus and Tallahasse’s encounter with Wichita and Little Rock exposes their frailties as they are twice duped by the sisters, having their guns and car stolen after the first meeting before falling once again for the girls’ trap and being taken hostage! Despite the danger Columbus cannot help but fall for Wichita who is initially dismissive of him but soon finds herself developing feelings for him too. Each of the four characters are somewhat lost souls. Columbus’ love of solitude and his struggle to bond with anyone makes him a sympathetic but foolish hero. For all his toughness, Tallahasse is in mourning for his dog that was a victim of the zombie attacks, which may sound silly to some people but comes across as quite poignant. Wichita and Little Rock have had to grow up fast and only have each other to rely on which makes them initially suspicious of Columbus and Tallahasse but the quartet soon find they can work well together.
Zombieland begins well and doesn’t let up, managing to be both very funny and entertaining as our heroes and heroines face off against the zombie horde. The undoubted highlight of the film was them reaching Hollywood and heading for the seemingly deserted mansion of Bill Murray. That in itself was a cool idea but then Bill makes an appearance himself and it’s a memorable cameo from the comedy legend. Of course our quartet settle their differences in the end and you’ll find few surprises with the “will they, won’t they” scenario between Columbus and Wichita but the film does contain some surprises, notably details of Tallahasse’s tragic past. Do the group survive the zombie attacks in the end though? Does Bill Murray get through it alive? Does Tallahasse find that fabled last Twinkie? So many questions and it’s great fun finding out the answers. Eisenberg makes for a confident lead, Murray’s cameo is most welcome, Stone and Breslin offer good support, but Harrelson is a revelation as Tallahasse and simply steals the film from everyone else.
Zombieland is a funny and action-packed horror comedy with a good cast, memorable set pieces and enough zombies to satisfy the fussiest of zombie fanatics. I still prefer Shaun of the Dead but this turns out to be a very different film and one with many qualities of its own.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)