One of the most popular horror film villains is the zombie, popularized for modern audiences by George A. Romero with Night of the Living Dead in 1968, Dawn of the Dead 10 years later, and beyond. Zombie films have been serious and comedic over the years, and the latest example of the latter is Zombieland, a witty, fun, and extremely entertaining piece of silliness that will be heaven for those partial to the mix of horror and comedy.
As with most zombie films, Zombieland is set in a world where a zombie outbreak has left the world's cities and towns deserted by humans and left trashed, with hungry zombies roaming the place for "food." The film follows two men, Columbus (Jessie Eisenberg) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who have found a way to survive the overrun world of zombies. Joining forces with Wichita (Superbad's Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin), they continue to try and survive the land of the zombies.
Zombieland is one of those films that delivers exactly what it says on the tin. Anyone going in expecting anything deep or meaningful needs to seriously re-think their movie judgment. What makes it such a fun watch is the great mix of comedy and horror, but like another zombie horror comedy, Shaun of the Dead, it leans more toward the comedy side of things. Almost every moment is filled with witty and genuinely funny dialogue: the abusive but playful banter between Eisenberg (who seems like a funnier, more effective Michael Cera) and Harrelson (who's clearly having a lot of fun playing this gun-toting role) is an absolute joy to watch. Apart from the fun performances, this enjoyment comes from the fact that the two characters are polar opposites — Columbus is paranoid, cautious, and slightly shy and reserved, while Tallahassee is confident, casual, and almost blasé. Them playing off of one another is surprisingly one of the strongest elements of the film.
What may not be clear from the get-go with Zombieland is just how gory it is at times. It's not unwatchable gory (as some torture-porn films, like Hostel for example, are) but particularly toward the beginning, there are some eye-raising moments of splattered heads, gunshot wounds, and flesh-eating shown in all its bloody glory. It may be a bit too much for some people, especially if you weren't prepared for it, but it's not all the film is about, so you may want to grit your teeth and bear the gory moments (which really aren't all that prevalent) to appreciate all else it has to offer.
On top of the gore, the film also has tons of swearing peppered throughout its extensive scenes of witty dialogue. Even Columbus, the meek and geeky character, spouts the f-bomb left, right, and centre. But, as with the gore, it fits the film. In a world overrun by zombies, I'd think swearing would be automatic, wouldn't you?
The action here is surprisingly well done despite the fact it's not the primary goal of the film. Its main aim is to bring out the comedy in any and every moment it can, whether be verbal or physical, but the chase (which are sometimes hilariously shown in super slow-motion) and shoot-out scenes in particular are well done. The special effects (a mix of real make-up effects and, clearly, CGI) are also quite impressive, as completely over the top as they often are.
Unfortunately, Zombieland's narrative sometimes sags because of a certain attempt at throwing in a romance angle for Eisenberg's Columbus (all the characters are named after the place where they're heading) with one of the girls he and Harrelson's Tallahassee meet up with. It's not badly done, but it just doesn't fit with the rest of the film which, for the most part, moves along at a fast pace and comes in at a brisk 85 minutes in length (although the last 15 minutes or so could have been trimmed somewhat).
A structure introduced and held throughout the first half-hour of Zombieland is the "Rules of Survival" that Columbus has come up with. Rules such as "Cardio," "Beware of Bathrooms," and, "Don't Be a Hero" all make sure he doesn't end up as zombie food (or a "Manwich"as Tallahassee casually comments about a zombie feeding at the side of the road). It provides for some playful breaking of the fourth wall (of sorts) where the rules appear on the areas around them whenever a particular rule applies to the situation. It's hard to explain in words but in the film it works well as a sly "wink, wink" to the audience.
There's not much else to say about Zombieland — it is what it is. It's pretty obvious the kind of film it's going to be right off the bat, and if you aren't hooked in by the ads, then it's unlikely you'll enjoy the final product. But those of you who think the ads look hilarious and really entertaining have your expectations set at the right level. With a few nitpicks here and there, it delivers on what it promises to do (with a few neat surprises thrown in there for good measure, such as a special actor cameo, which I won't spoil) and that's all it needs to do. It won't be included in any all-time great lists, not even of the zombie horror sub-genre, but as an over-the-top and quite silly comedy/horror flick, it's a real blast.