There are currently six (6) major film studios in the world. Six.
I had to look that little tidbit up this morning because I (for the life of me) can barely name any (recent) good horror movies that came out of a major film studio. The studio that tops the list of major film studios is Sony. Sony has given us such instant clunkers such as Boogeyman, When a Stranger Calls, and The Stepfather. It also chose to reboot Carrie (despite being better than I expected, it wasn’t necessary.) just last month. The studio seems to be content in just throwing some effects up on a screen, throw together a script that may not make sense, and call it a day. After all, that usually pulls in a cool $100 million for them.
In 2009, Sony did let a fun little movie out though: Zombieland. Zombieland is National Lampoon’s Vacation meets The Walking Dead. It’s charm is not in the destination it takes us. It resides in the journey there.
Columbus, OH (Jesse Eisenberg) is a college student in Texas when the zombie apocalypse begins (The movie uses very few real names.). He is a recluse, and doesn’t have many friends or much of a life at all. As the outbreak becomes more widespread, he is not affected by the loss of life as he never was really connected to them in the first place. He creates rules (Cardio, Limber up, Avoid Bathrooms, etc.) based upon the experiences that he encounters and flashbacks to other peoples’ deaths.
Columbus is on his way home (to Columbus) when he meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Tallahassee is pure redneck, and paints a giant “3” on every vehicle he ever gets into (This killed me as I used to play a game of how many Dale Earnhardt stickers I could count in a half hour drive. Most ever was 19.). He carries an arsenal of weapons with him, and is always looking for the “zombie kill of the week”. He also has a weakness for Twinkies.
The 2 men meet up with a pair of sisters on their way to California (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin). The sisters are trying to go out west to an amusement park called Pacific Playland. According to rumors, there are no zombies out there. In fact, everybody is traveling to a destination that is rumored to be the untouched.
This movie starts out strong, and holds the pace well (Thanks to some well cued flashbacks.). The opening title is quite gory. We see many slow motion deaths. Some are CGI, and some aren’t. It’s set to Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls so I was bobbing my head. The rules that Columbus live by end up plastered in the background which takes a little getting used to, but it’s usually “hidden” quite cleverly. It’s a dark humor piece, and it’s funny.
As a road trip comedy, it excels. The characters, although caricatures, all seem to enjoy each other’s presence. Columbus pines for Wichita. Tallahassee loves showing off. The whole group acts like kids together, and it works. The Walking Dead is a much more serious tone, but one of the main themes for it is the group dynamic. The characters in Zombieland do what normal people would do when put in extraordinary circumstances: They joke and lean on each other. When the moment is too deep, you see the character reflect and then deflect. After all, it’s going to take a certain type of person to survive in a zombie apocalypse.
Bill Murray also has a small cameo in this movie, and it great. I guarantee that I (if given a chance) would do the exact same thing. Unfortunately, there is also an accident that occurs during his cameo. This always drives me crazy. After I have been bombarded with the survival rules, these are ignored here for the sake of comedy. Oh well. It’s worth it to hear Murray say he has no regrets (except Garfield).
There’s no new ground covered here with the zombies. They are standard living dead, but they are the fast kind. They can use doorknobs on occasions, but don’t have high intelligence. The makeup and costumes are great, but the movie does lean heavily on CGI.
Zombieland works both as a horror movie and a comedy. The pacing is great, and it effectively tells a story and a backstory all at once. It does sacrifice some horror near the end for the sake of the comedy, but it can be forgiven. It’s definitely worth a look.