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December 22, 2009 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Zombieland

film

Perhaps we’re asking too much of our horror films these days.

Ever since Scream’s debut in 1996, and perhaps even before, audiences have been less impressed by straight horror films. No longer will scare chords and a man in a mask or make-up suffice – they need to come with a twist that depends on your tastes. No longer are straight zombies or vampires any good – they have to be re-imagined or contemporised, a la 28 Days Later or (shudder) Twilight. The impossibly mature-looking teenagers can’t just be stupid and run into the pointy zombieland_posterends of knives any more – they have to be doing that ironically, or they have to be meta-fictional in their existence. Straight scares don’t suffice – the film has to be laden with comedy or excessive torture now. It will soon get to the point when people begin yearning for the ‘good old days’ again, like fans of testosterone-pumping action films yearn for a return to the ripped he-men and droll one-liners of the 1980s. Some day, none of this will be good enough, and people will call for a return to the 1970s and 1980s, to Romero’s blood-splattered, context-heavy zombie films and Carpenter’s genre-defining masterpieces.

But while that return may not necessarily be a bad thing, Zombieland makes a good case for it not happening just yet.

Much like Shaun of the Dead before it, Zombieland takes the time-honoured horror premise of a zombie apocalypse and injects it with several CC’s of left-of-centre comedy. Both films focus on a group of rag-tag survivors making their way to a place where they think they’ll be safe – in Shaun, it’s layabouts Shaun and Ed, Shaun’s exasperated girlfriend Liz, and a few extra tagalongs heading for their local pub; in Zombieland, weedy “spitfuck” Columbus, excessively macho Tallahassee and con artist sisters Wichita and Little Rock head for Pacific Playland, an amusement park outside Los Angeles. However, while both films have a number of narrative similarities, and the tone of the two films is relatively similar, both feel like products of their own culture – Shaun a very British comedy and Zombieland an often-ostentatious American one. Reuben Fleischer’s direction is hyper-stylish and over-the-top, the film awash with bright colours, odd angles, slow-motion and rapid editing. It’s a style that suits the film perfectly, much like Edgar Wright’s kinetic yet oddly low-key direction in Shaun fit that film like a glove. Zombieland’s script justifies that direction by alternating between gratuitously bloody violence and sharp humour with considerable ease, and the actors bring it to life with energy and an innate ability to tap into and flesh out the archetypes provided them. Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, playing Tallahassee and Columbus respectively, stand out the most in the small cast, with Harrelson a gleefully wide-eyed vessel of hilarious machismo and Eisenberg giving Columbus exactly the nervy wryness that he needs.

zombieland_poster_01However, the film is prone to problems. Little Rock is a problematic character, written as an inherently precocious pre-teen (“twelve is the new twenty,” she says at one point), and Abigail Breslin only serves to exacerbate that problem, switching between annoyingly mature and, well, kid-like at the drop of a hat. Furthermore, the script seems to trip over itself at the end, more concerned with writing the characters into a position from which an awesome action set-piece can be staged than with maintaining its own internal logic. For a film that has so much fun playing with the common tropes and clichés of zombie films, the final twenty to thirty minutes seem rife with them, with characters regularly falling to excessive stupidity in order to keep the ball rolling. It’s disappointing, and it’s incredibly lucky that the climax is an exciting, balls-to-the-wall piece of action cinema anyway, mitigating most of the damage. Finally, a scene about halfway in sucks all the pacing out of the film, and while it may say some things about disasters such as a zombie apocalypse acting as a great social leveller, the scene can’t help but feel like a twelve minute session of fellating its subject.

Zombieland is a ridiculously entertaining film, filled with excellently-measured comedy, some utterly sublime action set pieces, and even the odd classic jump scare. With great work from all involved, it could easily be one of the best comedies of the year. However, one can’t help but feel that it’d be so much more if the script had just been tidied up.

Zombieland
Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
With Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin

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