Zombieland is a superior zombie comedy – and the competition in that genre is stiffer than you might think.
Sure, there are misfires (Zombie Strippers), but the likes of Shaun of the Dead, Black Sheep, Fido and Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive have more than made up for it. There is a contorted form of catharsis in laughing at figures who are the cinematic symbol of our own inescapable mortality.
Enter Zombieland, a gory lark that lets us guffaw in the face of apocalypse. Armed with a nice little cast – that’s what you call it when Woody Harrelson is the most recognizable figure – and a lively new director in Ruben Fleischer, the movie makes you glad that the zombie genre remains undead.
Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) plays the narrator, Columbus, a hypochondriac whose isolated lifestyle enabled him to survive the zombie outbreak that overtook most of America. (“I avoided other people like they were zombies before they were zombies,” he explains.)
Columbus eventually teams up with Tallahassee (Harrelson), a gun nut with a taste for zombie blood, and a pair of sisters (Emma Stone and Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin) in an uneasy alliance.
Eisenberg and Harrelson develop a fairly funny odd couple routine, while Stone (Superbad, The House Bunny) further expands her reputation as a smart comedienne. Breslin is mainly here to scuzz up her image, which appearing in a movie that opens with a vomiting zombie will do.
Aside from the laughs – including a Bill Murray cameo that is easily the picture’s highlight – Zombieland has a sharp visual style courtesy of Fleischer. The opening title sequence features the most interactive onscreen credits since David Fincher’s Panic Room.
The picture climaxes at an amusement park, which only heightens the macabre comedy. With its clanking roller coasters and mechanical haunted house, it’s the perfect setting for a zombie comedy. Like those experiences, the movie means to amuse us by toying with the specter of inevitable death.