Last week, with the release of Pandorum, I noted how sci-fi horror is a very tough genre to crack in Hollywood. This week sees the release of another film that falls into a similarly difficult genre – the horror comedy. For a long time now the horror comedy is a movie subgenre that has had a very difficult time in Hollywood (and the Scary Movie films do not count as they are more in the spoof category) with films such as Snakes On A Plane, Eight Legged Freaks and The Frighteners (not to mention many others) all being universally ignored at the box office but finding huge cult appeal among small niche audiences. Now, there is Zombieland, another horror comedy that looks like it may become something of a cult hit, the only difference this time being that (in the states) it is already a big box office success as well. How did it achieve this you ask? Well, providing a humorous spin on the zombie movie – a genre that has been done to death (pardon the pun) but that people continue to come up with original approaches for – and dubbed as the American answer to Britain’s excellent Shaun Of The Dead, the film has won great acclaim with moviegoers and critics alike who have been lauding its fresh take on the world-overrun-by-zombies concept. And a sharp marketing campaign emphasizing the humorous angle and particularly the rules on how to survive in a world overrun by zombies has certainly helped it out too.
In the wake of a zombie apocalypse, neurotic nerd Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) clings to his 32 rules for survival in a terrifying new world which he calls Zombieland. Mostly, this involves running away and generally avoiding being heroic. And it works pretty well until he meets fearless shotgun-toting loner Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) who has a quite different approach to his lumbering enemies – hunt ‘em down and hit ‘em hard. Together, they make a classic odd couple, teaming up with fellow survivors, the beautiful quick witted con artist Wichita (Emma Stone) and her sidekick younger sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) in an epic journey from Texas to LA for a spectacular showdown with the undead in an amusement park. Together, they discover the means to more than just survive in a devastated world – they discover the means to live.
With the amount of zombie movies that have been churned out by Hollywood over the years you might expect that there wouldn’t be any originality left in the genre yet filmmakers continue to defy such expectations and Zombieland is a perfect example of this. Many have labelled this film as an American Shaun Of The Dead and while comparisons can indeed be drawn between the two films Zombieland nonetheless manages to forge its own distinct identity. One of the key things that makes this film so unique is the set of rules that have been created for surviving in a world overrun by zombies (either spoken by the central character or coming up in text form on the screen in key sequences). These rules are both inventive and often quite funny, not to mention making quite a lot of sense, and play a major role in the film as a whole. Even though only 6 of the 32 rules really feature it nonetheless allows for an original approach to tackling zombies and paves the way for potential sequels, sequels which would be very welcome. Not getting too far ahead of myself, however, there is much to enjoy in this film. Firstly, any horror fans need not worry about the comedy element of the film detracting from the horror side of things as while the film is very tongue in cheek and shouldn’t be taken too seriously there are indeed some solid scares blended in with the laughs and for the gore hounds there are ample helpings of the red stuff on display and the zombie make up and effects are suitably gruesome. Be warned, this film is not for the squeamish. There is also an excellent sense of devastation with the post apocalyptic world put up on the screen often belying the film’s low budget, being up to the same standard as other more serious zombie flicks. The film also showcases a variety of ingenious ways to dispatch the hordes of zombies the characters encounter. A major strength of the film, however, is the way that director Ruben Fleischer manages to take a somewhat light-hearted approach to everything that happens, and the methods in which zombies are killed are a good example of this, some being very very funny, particularly in the climax which takes place in a theme park, perhaps one of the most original ideas for a zombie movie in some time. The humour isn’t all down to the director of course with writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick providing lots of amusing situations to work with as well as plenty of witty dialogue for the characters, who are brought to charismatic life thanks to great performances from every cast member. Jesse Eisenberg follows in the footsteps of Michael Cera, perfectly portraying the neurotic character and very amusingly so, Woody Harrelson is hugely entertaining as the tough guy loner, and the two share a very good mismatched buddy dynamic with their interactions alone being thoroughly amusing. The always excellent Emma Stone is also on top form, with yet another in a fast growing list of hilariously enjoyable comic performances and Abigail Breslin is extremely mature as the younger sister of Stone’s character. Also worth noting is a hilarious cameo appearance by Bill Murray as himself in a scene that alone makes this film worth seeing, even without all the quality to be found elsewhere. So, overall, Zombieland is another excellent entry into the ever growing list of zombie movies, managing to provide yet another fresh take on the genre and sealing its place as a horror comedy that will be remembered for years to come. And here’s hoping that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse in real life that it’s as much fun as this film.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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