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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
October 2009

Inglourious zombies

We're gonna be doin' one thing, and one thing only - killin' zombies . . . and in 'Zombieland,' that'll work just fine

Zombieland
Columbia Pictures
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenplay: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and Amber Heard
Rated R / 1 hour, 28 minutes
(out of four)

You've gotta hand it to zombies. Like a savvy entrepreneur, they've managed to carve out quite a place for themselves in this world. In their limited time as part of the popular consciousness, they've managed to continually reinvent themselves and stay relevant. That "silly" idea George Romero had 40-plus years ago that popularized zombies as we know them has had quite a lasting impact. (I'll resist the temptation to make one of those "they just won't die!" jokes. Too late? Oh well.)

And let's be honest - as the undead go, they're a step above their vampire brethren, no matter how many teenage girls try to convince you otherwise. I mean, at least zombies are straightforward about what they want. At the end of the day, you can respect them for that. Vampires, though . . . so passive-aggressive!

What zombies seem to have undergone over the last decade or two is a period of self-actualization. Specifically, they've realized they're better suited to comedy than pure horror. That's not to say they can't be scary - only that opening up their comedic talents has brought magnificent delights. And has done wonders for their shelf life and posterity.

The best zombie movies I've seen since the original Night of the Living Dead are Peter Jackson's under-seen Dead Alive and the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg modern classic, Shaun of the Dead. In something of the same vein is Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland, a comedy that takes place in an American wasteland in which all towns, big and small, have been ravaged by a zombie outbreak.

We are kept apprised of the situation by our loyal friend and humble narrator, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) - known as such because it's his hometown - who has managed to map out a road to survival that few others have been savvy enough to follow.

What's amusing is how virtually the entirety of his survival diagnosis seems to have been culled from the pitfalls seen in other zombie movies. For instance, one of his rules is to always check the backseat. Because anyone who's ever seen a zombie movie knows, if you ever get in a car and don't look behind you, your former best friend who is now gruesomely blood-spattered and frothing at the mouth will be right there waiting for you, and he will kill you.

But that's not even my favorite car-related rule. That would be Rule No. 4: "Seatbelts." Once again, we all know how such a seemingly minor oversight can come back to bite you.

And we can't forget Rule No. 1, "Cardio," exemplified in a great early scene in which a pair of zombies tries to attack Columbus in his car, and he proceeds to outrun them by running around in a circle. Job well done. Zombies, as we all know, are not known for their speed. (Except the speedy ones in 28 Days Later . . . though some purists reading this will insist that those things weren't "technically" zombies.)

While Columbus is a self-described loner, he finds himself part of a group of survivors making their way across the country - the eccentric, zombie-killin' redneck Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and a team of sisters played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin.

While it doesn't reach the unforgettable status of Dead Alive or Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland is a consistently charming - if such an adjective can be used for a movie about slaughtering reanimated corpses - and well-made horror-comedy that takes advantage of its star attractions' comedic gifts.

But let me also say that the film's best sequence occurs without any zombies appearing on screen at all. It involves the unexpected cameo of one of the great comic actors, one of my favorites - but his appearance is too great to spoil. Let it simply be said that he provides the film's funniest moments - and the way the filmmakers resolve his appearance in the story is every bit as inspired. But we'll leave that discussion for another day. In the case of Zombieland, there's only one thing funnier than a zombie - and he is it.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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