Zombieland (2009)

Review first published by Little White Lies

The year 2009 introduces a new law of cinema: if a film stars Jesse Eisenberg and features the word ‘land’ in the end of its title, it will infinitely surpass your expectations. The trailer for Adventureland promised dumbed-down gross-out antics – but delivered a tender comedy of coming-of-age awkwardness filled with deliciously bittersweet nostalgia, and with real wit to match its charm.

Just the title of Zombieland will have many viewers (even horror diehards) dull-eyed and groaning at the prospect of yet another zombie flick, after the subgenre spread through the noughties like a rage virus, gradually, through sheer, bludgeoning repetition, draining cinema of its brains.

Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick know this. They know that we are all bored of zombies. So instead they deliver a comic rites-of-passage road movie in which four misfits drift through an alienating world before finding each other. Our narrator and anti-hero Columbus (Eisenberg) is a neurotic, fretful, obsessive-compulsive, people-fearing virgin who has lived his whole life as though under siege.

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is an angry, infantilised fighter who, not unlike a zombie, will happily kill for what he craves (in his case, a Twinkie). Wichita (Emma Stone) and her 12-year-old sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have been on the run – and on the grift – all their lives. After crossing paths and each other, this odd quartet ends up forming a postmodern family unit together, as an alternative to the ‘nuclear’ model that has turned the rest of America into a land of conformist, consumerist living dead.

Which brings us neatly to the zombies. Zombieland is full of the ravenous infected, bloodily devouring anything that gets in their way – but here the undead, and the apocalyptic landscape that they have left in their wake, serve as wallpaper, offering satiric foils to the journey of the four principal survivors who always remain – and rightly so – the focus.

In keeping with both its title and the amusement park setting of its final scenes, Zombieland is a funride through zombified American society, full of genuinely hilarious lines and situations. It also offers what must constitute the weirdest (and funniest) star cameo since John Malkovich’s multiple turns in Being John Malkovich – but as our fugitive foursome briefly stops in at Hollywood’s La La Land for some cinema-oriented lampoonery, to reveal just who is encountered there would be to ruin the surprise.

Anticipation: Zombies again? Groan…

Enjoyment: Hey, this is witty, charming and very funny.

In retrospect: A zombie comedy that doesn’t leave you feeling braindead.

Anton Bitel