My hatred of setting a film in a “post-apocalyptic wasteland” is well documented as I often feel that it’s a lazy way to set things up for a movie that would be hard to explain otherwise. The zombie genre has really embraced the post-apocalyptic wasteland as its own and it would be odd to find a zombie movie that didn’t either start that way or have the wasteland as the final destination of the piece. I tend not to think too much about things I dislike (like wastelands) but after watching last night’s movie I figured out another problem with the whole idea. The apocalypse is the end of the world, i.e. there’s no more world after it, so to have something set post-apocalypse would mean that the action would have to occur somewhere else, either off-world or in some other part of the ethereal plain like Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Limbo, or West Cork.
Zombieland (2009) is set in a post-nearly-apocalyptic America which has recently been ravaged by a mutated version of mad cow disease that has jumped to humans and turned them into zombies. Our hero, the geeky Columbus is travelling to the city of the same name to find out if any of his family has survived. Columbus narrates the action, telling the viewer about his rules for avoiding death by zombie as he goes through the motions of day-to-day survival. As he travels along he encounters a man who calls himself Tallahassee, a bit of a bad-ass who gets a kick out of slaughtering the zombie hoards as he cruises around.
Tallahassee and Columbus travel together, occasionally stopping to forage for food, with Tallahassee desperate to feed his addiction to Twinkies. During one such stop they encounter two sisters, Wichita and Little Rock who are on their way to LA to visit Pacific Playland which is supposed to be clear of zombies. The small group end up travelling together, battling zombies, encountering the most unlikely people along the way, and kicking the shit out of every zombie that’s dumb enough to cross their path.
Zombieland was incredibly surprising as it is really, really fucking good. Jesse Eisenberg is perfect as Columbus, the poor meek lad who put his mind to surviving and was getting places with his strategies. Woody Harrelson finally found the best role of his career in Tallahassee, a man so utterly out of his tree he’s the ultimate role model for gun-toting zombie killers everywhere. It’s really good to see Harrelson in this role as he really was ideal for it. His comedy timing, use of foul language, but surprisingly human side all worked well to develop a character that’s much more then you’d expect in a film of this nature.
The storyline of Zombieland is probably the only big failing of the movie as it was originally intended to be a TV series and not a feature film. The mid-way point of the film is where the pilot episode of the series was to end and then develop on out into a running series. In order to make the film complete it was necessary to write an ending that would tie everything up and provide a thrilling climax, so to do this they came up with the idea of Pacific Playland, and that’s the weak spot. The Playland idea seems like a poor motivation for the journey the sisters are on and they themselves seem so self-centred and single-minded given their situation as to be the least believable of the group, even with the explanations that are provided.
These points are more than compensated for by Tallahassee and Columbus, with Columbus’s common sense rules promoting the exact opposite kind of behaviour then you normally see in a zombie flick that normally makes you scream at the stupidity of the people you’re watching. For a zombie comedy there’s a level of intelligence and subtlety behind the humour that treats the audience with respect and is easily on a par with Shaun of the Dead (with which there are obvious comparisons), and in some aspects are better than Shaun, though I don’t think the sentimentality of Zombieland works as well.
Zombieland is funny, belly laugh funny, and nicely gory too. Some of the effects are computer generated but they’re not bad, and you’ll be so busy pissing yourself laughing that you won’t really notice, probably because you’ll be sitting in a pool of your own wee.
Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Zombieland.