The hype for Zombieland has been, at times, overwhelming. As a defensive mechanism, I’ve maintained what I consider to be a healthy skepticism. But I have to say, now that I have seen the movie, the hype was largely justified. By the time the opening credits rolled, I had little reason to doubt that this is a fine zombie film.
Now, make no mistake, many a hardcore zombie fan will find reason to hate this movie. These are fast zombies, for one thing. I know that’s enough to earn a “how about no?” from plenty of people. Possibly worse, in many eyes, is these zombies are probably closest to 28 Days Later zombies. That is to say, there’s no reason to think they died and reanimated. Technically speaking, these are just very sick people with an appetite for eating their former friends, not reanimated corpses. Over that? Okay, this is also not a film with a heavy — or any, really — social commentary. It’s just not. It’s an action-movie buddy comedy with zombies. If you haven’t swallowed your tongue in apoplectic horror yet, read on. It’s smooth sailing from here.
Zombieland is the story of four people thrown together by unlikely circumstance — the zombie apocalypse. That’s pretty standard fare for any buddy pic, and especially familiar to zombie fans. But the chemistry between the four, especially main leads Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, is enough to make it work. The foursome, after some intitial hijinx, are headed for Pacific Playland (read: Disneyland), an amusement park rumored to be free of the zombie scourge. That’s it. That’s the story. Now twists, no turns, no fanfare.
Okay, there are a couple of subplots (Eisenberg falls for the older girl, there’s a hilarious interlude with a famous actor I’d hate to spoil) but the point is, this is all very straightforward, by the numbers, action-oriented zombie stuff. But it works, in part becasue director Ruben Fleischer does an excellent job of keeping things moving as he puts the characters throughout their paces. That, and there are some really great effects, inspired musical cues, clever jokes and utterly awesome zombie kills and set pieces. It does slow down a tiny bt in the middle, but by the time you notice it, things have revved back into high gear and you’re headed for the climax full steam ahead, so it’s no big issue.
Call it shallow, call it slick, whatever. It’s fun and that’s the bottom line. I don’t know that this moves the zombie genre forward. But I do know that it could easily introduce zombies to a whole generation of fans that haven’t ever paid much attention to our walking dead frenemies. I’ve said many times before that Shaun of the Dead is an excellent “gateway drug” zombie movie. In all honesty, this may be even better for the purpose of introducing newcomers to the living dead. It doesn’t have the same kind of reverent, deeply rooted respect for the genre that Shaun displayed, but it’s not really any worse for lacking that. And just as Shaun was a deeply British movie, this movie 100 percent all-American. It may lack depth and substance but it more than makes up for that in sheer awesome. If you have doubts, let them be banished. Zombieland is a kickass good time and you should absolutely go see it.
Edit: Added a clause to clarify comparison to Shaun of the Dead.