Set to the pounding snarl of Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, we are thrust head first into the gleeful wonders of Zombieland, a delightfully snarky 2009 entry into the ever bloating cannon of zombie flicks. A raucous horror comedy from the screenwriters who went on to selflessly gift the world by penning Deadpool, Zombieland was somewhat of a breath of ironically fresh air (considering the fetidness of most of the population) with well realised and immensely likeable characters that endear themselves the instant they arrive on screen. In fact the film bears a remarkable similarity to the video game series Left 4 Dead and it’s sequel which also saw a quartet of mismatched misfits struggling in a glib apocalypse to stay alive while trading barbs and bullets with sprinting corpses. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, far from it, but you could’ve named Zombieland Left 4 Dead or vice versa and everybody would’ve been none the wiser.
Anyway, the end of the world has struck as it so often does in movies like this and the blood-drooling, fast paced living dead are everywhere. Nebbish, nervous, introvert Columbus is attempting to cross a zombie ravaged America to get home, surviving only on his wits and an extensive list of do’s and dont’s which flash up on the screen at opportune moments and include such gems as #4 Wear Seatbelts and #17 Don’t Be A Hero. His path eventually crosses with Tallahassee, a cowboy booted, surly, swaggering shitkicker of all zombie kind who immediately sparks up a classic odd couple repport and the two forge a tetchy, but firm bond. The bond is instantly tested by razor tongued con artist Wichita and her younger sister Little Rock who easily outwit the pair, take their weapons and vehicle and leaves them stranded. However, fate keeps bringing them back together and so eventually they all team up to take Little Rock to an amusement park she went to when she was a kid and much zombie killing hilarity ensues.
The key to Zombieland is it’s four core cast members, all of whom are perfectly tailor made for their on-screen characters.
Emma Stone, capitalising on her stand-out turn in Superbad, brings a cynical sass to Wichita who frequently is the only mature adult in the room and yet doesn’t let that dull her keen comedic edge and Abigail Breslin (so impressive in Little Miss Sunshine) is all adolescent charm in a role that could oh so easily be obnoxious or irritating. Someone else who skillfully avoids a performance that could grate on the audience like a sandpaper loofer is Jesse Eisenberg who takes his motor mouthed, bundle of neurosis and makes him an endearing and sweet pair of eyes for the audience to glimpse this new wacky world through. However, it’s Woody Harrelson’s charismatic moron, Tallahassee, who steals the film wholesale as he stomps through proceedings in cowboy boots and a perpetual smirk fused to his face as he shoots, beats and blows up the undead with everything from high grade weaponry to a banjo. But even high quality comedic performances and bucketloads of chemistry only get you so far; what really pushes Zombieland over the top is the vast amounts of heart each of the four leads are imbued with. Sure, Tallahassee’s endless search for the last surviving Twinkie is hugely funny but his backstory is legitimately heartbreaking and is told without a suprising lightness of hand that doesn’t ruin everything with schmaltz the way some comedies can.
But let’s not forget that this film has freakin’ zombies in it (like a certain TV show dies from time to time) and while Zombieland may not be soaked in as much grue as some of it’s peers it’s still fast and exciting enough to count as a rollercoaster thrill ride. A compliment that becomes amusingly literal when the climatic scenes play out at an amusement park with Tallahassee giggling like a child as he blows away numerous rotting bastards from the relative safety of a careening fairground ride.
Director Ruben Fleischer, making his feature debut, has a steady hand on the throttle (although it wasn’t quite as steady when he made Venom) and has some remarkable back up at his back and call, his stars and the whip-crack smart script being only the beginning. Not only does it have one of the top three credit titles in zombie cinema history (only Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead remake and the orginal Day Of The Dead has it beat) but it comes armed and dangerous with perhaps the greatest cameo of all time with the gang swinging by Beverley Hills to crash Bill Murray’s palatial mansion only to find the legendary funny man still alive. Harrelson’s pure joy will mirror your own.
Simple, funny and loaded with character, zombieland, with it’s blood drooling ghouls and abundance of live saving rules, may not be a place you’d wanna live, but take it from me, it sure is dead fun to visit.