“Oh my God. Oh my God…I can’t believe I shot Bill Murray!”
The zombie virus thing has been overdone so much in recent years that it’s almost as dead as it’s titular antagonists, but when this little gem was released back in 2009 it dived head first into the genre from a completely fresh angle. So fresh in fact that even Jesse Eisenberg’s monotonous narration couldn’t bring it down.
Eisenberg plays Columbus, an everyday, twenty something bachelor who just happens to be one of the last few remaining human survivors in America, or Zombieland as he so nonchalantly refers to it now. At first you might think why someone like Columbus has survived when other more capable humans have failed. It’s because he follows a strict code of rules – cardio, check the backseat, beware of bathrooms, just to name a few – and this list of rules is what we are first introduced to at the beginning of the movie. It’s the perfect way to engross the audience into the unique storytelling aspect that Zombieland decides to partake in. Things begin to get really interesting when Columbus and his new road trip buddy Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) bump into fellow survivors and sisters Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone). By now you’ve probably realised that each character is named after a U.S. city. After some initial reservations, all four decide to hop into a car and make their way to an amusement park in Los Angeles called ‘Pacific Playland’, where zombies apparently have yet to touch.
You only need to watch Zombieland for literally about thirty seconds to realise what kind of movie it is. Yes it’s a zombie movie – duh! – but it’s so much more than that. Think Shaun of the Dead meets Scott Pilgrim vs the World. It’s a hilariously clever parody of what most zombie movies have become, but somehow still manages to communicate some sentimentality in-between the blood and guts. What’s so refreshing about it’s approach is that it doesn’t bother to waste time trying to explain how, when and why the zombie virus took over, it just throws us right in to the melee. And there are some genuine life lessons to be learned as we uncover each “rule”. Getting to know Columbus and his rules is an absolute hoot and despite Jesse Eisenberg’s lack of emotional range, he still delivers a fairly enigmatic performance. I like Eisenberg – I don’t love him – but sometimes it feels like he lingers in this static phase of normality in all of his movies. It actually works here perfectly since his character is so mundane it hurts and the juxtaposition between him and Harrelson’s trigger happy, Twinkie addicted, foul mouthed badass makes for highly enjoyable viewing.
The inclusion of Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone help to flesh out Columbus and Tallahassee and of course add some much needed heart to the story. What starts off as an over-the-top, comedy horror slowly transforms into a coming of age road trip, but thankfully it never compromises the humour for soppy drama.
The acting is all spot on but the hero here is the writing. The screenplay is surprisingly thought provoking and at times side splitting funny. It certainly is original and when it comes to a genre like this, originality is the key factor to success. Each character gets their time under the gooey-eyed spotlight but this movie is built on humour and action, and there’s plenty of action come the end. The last segment is relentless and excessively fun, and perhaps deserves a whole tub of popcorn to itself. Also Bill Murray’s appearance might be one of the greatest cameos ever.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter