The world’s population has been afflicted with a strain of mad cow disease. Flesh-eating zombies rule, and sympathy for the enemy can get you infected. A group of travellers have banded together, traversing a burnt-out wasteland with the threat of death and disease looming around every corner. Somehow, though, it’s funny.
In the disease ridden world of Zombieland, only a few uninfected humans remain. One of them is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), named for his trek from the University of Texas – where he lived as a computer-geek hermit, drinking Mountain Dew Code Red and playing endless video games – to his hometown destination of Columbus, Ohio, where he hopes to find his family. He stays alive in Zombieland by devising and following a set of rigid rules (Rule 1: Cardio, Rule 2: Beware of bathrooms, etc). But what Columbus is really looking for, whether he’ll admit it or not, is connection.
Columbus finds a friend in a man named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, in a career-defining role) who kills zombies with a vigour and delights in brutality. While wearing a cowboy hat, driving an Escalade with a snow plow on the front, and alternately playing a banjo and swinging a pickaxe, he hunts ceaselessly for what may be the last Twinkie on earth.
The pair meet fellow travellers Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Little Miss Sunshine‘s Abigail Breslin), and together they head to California’s Pacific Playland, an amusement park which is rumoured to be zombie-free.
Director Ruben Fleischer’s take on zombie comedy is easily the most entertaining film released so far this autumn. In spite of its obvious comparisons to recent fellow zom-coms Shaun of the Dead and American Zombie, Zombieland feels like something entirely new.
Fleischer rarely flinches when it comes to gore, and often the camera is splattered with the stuff, but it’s always played for comedic effect. A prime example comes when Columbus smashes a clown zombie’s head with a mallet – amid a wash of spraying brains and the sounds of crushing bones, the audience hears the subtle squeak of the clown’s rubber nose deflating. The film walks the line between gross-outs and guffaws quite well; at one point, the heroes dump a corpse over a balcony, and Columbus asks, “Anyone want some Purel?”
Throughout the film, the tension stays taut, and the mayhem never stops as the group smashes up a roadside tourist trap and breaks into the home of a major Hollywood celebrity, leading to a surprise cameo appearance. (To mention which actor the home belongs to would spoil the surprise.) This scene becomes perhaps the most entertaining fifteen minutes of any horror comedy this century.
Zombieland works on just about every level. The film is relentlessly entertaining, at turns scary, hilarious, and even tender. Harrelson turns in a dynamite performance, stealing every scene he’s in (in a good way), and Eisenberg performs at his awkward best. And the love-hate interaction between the men and women in the film remains interesting and perplexing throughout. The film also features an excellent soundtrack with songs from Seawolf, Band of Horses and The Velvet Underground.
Zombieland is a riotous good time, complete with slapstick scares and over-the-top laughs. This is destined to become a horror comedy classic.