Film review by: Witney Seibold
A warning: I will discuss a plot point about this film’s ending. It’s a minor point, but could still be seen as a “spoiler” to some. For the most part, though, I will keep the film’s surprises a secret.
Ruben Fleischer’s “Zombieland” is one of the best times I’ve had at the movies this year. It is slick, funny, just clever enough, and, most importantly, tasteful.
Let me explain what I mean by “tasteful,” as I’m describing a movie about a zombie apocalypse. In most slasher films of the last decade, and in zombie films in particular, the filmmakers have felt a need to eventually, once they cut through the survivalist stuff, and once they’ve finished telling the jokes, to get “serious.” They usually do this by killing off characters, and making sure we, the audience, still know the stakes are high. This can work, but rarely does. Case in point: I recently saw a rather well-made 2006 comedy/slasher film called “Hatchet.” The film, while bloody and spooky, is played for laughs, and all the characters are broad comic archetypes. All fine so far, but the film, in trying to make itself “edgy,” and “serious,” reaches a point where it begins killing off everyone.
I submit that, as a filmmaker, you cannot kill off everyone unless you’ve gone to the length of having us care about the characters, and making us believe that they may make it out of their situation alive. Only then will your ending be edgy and pessimistic. This is why all those recent horror remakes have been so bad and unnecessary: we already know about the fate of the heroines; we don’t care about them anymore.
“Zombieland” knows it’s a comedy, and keeps its mood light. We care about the characters enough to see them live, and makes sure we do. Yes, the characters all live in “Zombieland,” and thank goodness. Fleischer didn’t feel the need to be “serious.” He let us have our heroes, and let them have their triumphs.
The setup: A onetime reclusive twentysomething (Jesse Eisenberg) is one of the few survivors of a zombie apocalypse. He has a list of rules that has kept him alive, most of which are funny, but refreshingly practical. Rule #1, for instance, is to do plenty of cardio. Zombies, after all, will keep running after you, so you should be in good shape. On the road, he runs into a grizzled survivalist type played by, in a stroke of casting genius, Woody Harrelson. Since forming connections can be dangerous in a survivalist situation, they refer to one another by their hometowns. Eisenberg is called Columbus, and Harrelson is called Tallahassee.
The two eventually become something resembling friends, especially after they are robbed by “Wichita” (Emma Stone from “The House Bunny”) and “Little Rock” (Abigail Breslin). Tallahassee is pissed at being robbed, but when Columbus looks at Wichita, all sees is a potential love interest.
These people are all upbeat and friendly, still obsessed with their cute personal concerns than they are with the burden of being among the final people on Earth. I like to imagine that this aloof, humorous attempt at gallows humor would be the way I would personally stay alive, should I find myself the survivor of a zombie apocalypse. These people are surrounded by death, but the film is kept afloat by the juxtaposed practicalities of their situation. When it comes time to find a place to hide out, our heroes, perfectly logically, decide to drive to a posh mansion in the Hollywood Hills, occupied by a famous movie star. Why not, right? This sequence involves a cameo from a famous movie star whose identity I would not dream of revealing.
Please do see “Zombieland.” I loved it. It is so much damn fun.