Director    Ruben Fleischer
Starring    Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard
Release    2 OCT (US) 7 OCT (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


7th October 2009

By now, every good movie nerd knows that it's not easy to strike the perfect balance between humour and horror, and the list of films that do it well is depressingly short. Well, now you can add Zombieland to the list. Director Ruben Fleischer, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and the excellent cast do a superb job walking the tightrope between comedy and horror, though the movie leans more toward the former than the latter.

Nonetheless, much like Shaun Of The Dead, Zombieland is undoubtedly a zombie movie, it just happens to be one in which the characters and the situations in which they find themselves are inherently funny. More importantly, unlike the vast majority of post-apocalyptic zombie movies, Zombieland is hopeful and fun, and serves as a much-needed antidote to the doom and gloom that is usually a prerequisite for this type of movie.

We are introduced to a nervous young man known only as Columbus Ohio (Jesse Eisenberg, channeling Michael Cera by way of early Woody Allen), who appears to be the last survivor of a zombie apocalypse and is trying to survive as he makes his way back home to his parents. Along the way, he runs into Tallahassee (played with great relish by Woody Harrelson), a gruff, good ol' boy who appears to be having the time of his life, except for the fact that he doesn't have easy access to any Twinkies.

[gallery]The two become unlikely partners and hit the road, but soon find themselves without weapons or transportation after they're scammed by Wichita (a luminous Emma Stone) and her young sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Circumstances soon throw all the survivors together, and they grudgingly form a sort of dysfunctional extended family. The group eventually heads out Californy way, leading up to an inventive climax set in a deserted theme park a la Scooby Doo.

While Romero's zombie films have an inherent sense of playfulness at times, the genre is rarely what one would consider fun. Zombieland sets out to remedy that, poking fun at the conventions of zombie films while adhering quite closely to them at the same time. The absolutely fantastic opening credits sequence lays the groundwork for the rest of the movie, and tells the audience what kind of a ride they are in for right off the bat, as it is equal parts funny and gory.

A big part of what makes the film work so well is its superb cast. Everyone in the film is on the same page, no one feels out of place. The film rests primarily on the shoulders of Eisenberg, and he rises to the challenge. He never plays up his nebbish tendencies to the point of annoyance, and he really does an excellent job as the heart of this makeshift family. Harrelson is amazing, and like his character, he appears to be having a blast. Tallahassee deserves to be added to the pantheon of great horror movie heroes that are beloved by geeks, standing right alongside Ash and Reggie Bannister.

Not to be outdone by her male counterparts, Emma Stone dominates the screen with her vulnerable bad girl presence - she's not just there to be eye candy. Breslin rounds out the cast quite nicely, alternating between playing a girl who has been aged beyond her years by the tragedy that has befallen the world, and a kid who just wants to be a kid.

Another of the film's strengths is the direction. This is Ruben Fleischer's first feature-length film, and prior to this he only directed a short, a direct-to-video documentary, and a handful of episodes of Jimmy Kimmel Live. This surprises me, as Zombieland feels as though it was guided by someone who has been doing this his whole life. Fleischer does a lot with a little (the budget was around $23 million), and perfectly captures the desolation and loneliness of the post-apocalyptic aesthetic.

The film's greatest strength, however, lies in its sharp script. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are obviously fans of the genre, as they know all of the clichés inside and out, and they use that knowledge to perfectly lampoon the genre in general, while at the same time craft a fun and entirely worthy entry of their own. The closest analogy would probably be the way in which Galaxy Quest sends up Star Trek.

It's probably safe to say that Reese and Wernick love zombies and zombie movies, because only someone who has a great affection for them could give them such a good-natured ribbing.

While most entries in the vast wasteland that is the zombie glut are dour, hopeless affairs, Zombieland completely bucks the trend, and is all the better for it. The movie is sweet, fun, hilarious, and affectionate, and it's a winning combination. Here's to hoping that the adventures of Columbus and Tallahassee continue, because it would be a damn shame if they just shambled off into the sunset.

More:  Zombieland  Zombies
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