For some reason, a global pandemic has soured my enthusiasm for dystopian nightmares; why pay money to see a societal collapse that’s free to view on our own doorsteps? And yet Reuben Fleischer’s 2009 film is no worthy drama, but a fleet-footed, zesty comic take on the idea of a zombie apocalypse that’s lost none of its zing for being overtaken by recent events. With hip dialogue, a game cast, and a rare sense of fun, this is one zombie movie that’s anything but a downer.
We join Columbus (Jessie Eisenberg) in media res as he continues his search for friendship and romance on his cross-country trip through the USA. A strain of mad cow disease has mutated, causing most ordinary, decant citizens to become ravenous, foul zombies, and Columbus is seeking a new world and a fresh start. A partnership with the laconic Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) gives Columbus the chance to try out his tested rules for survival; avoiding bathrooms, disparaging heroics, and making good use of the double-tap ie repeated head-shots when making a kill. Male bonding only gets the boys so far, but a chance encounter with two wily gals (Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone) sets them on their way to a last heroic stand in a functioning West-coast amusement park.
Zombieland is a commendably brief 88 minute romp, and with an extended action climax, there’s really only time for an extended celebrity cameo before the final curtain falls. That star, fortunately, is Bill Murray, sending himself up with some style as one of the few human survivors, now disguising himself as a zombie so he can play golf without any interruptions. Murray’s house, largely decorated with portraits of Murray himself, is something of a hoot, and his knowing cameo fits in with the anything goes feel; the random destruction of a museum captures the high-spirits involved, and allows the audience to share in the desperate catharsis that these characters get from such abandon.
Zombieland plays down the melancholy, even if both Columbus and Tallahassee have dark moments in their backstories, and plays up the wish-fulfilment; if the world has gone to hell, why shouldn’t we make the best of things and ride the chaos? The splattery violence is vivid but not offensive, and the whole film is something of a carefree blast. With Hollywood seemingly set on a fairly uninspired and backwards looking set of ret-cons, sequels and franchises, it’s refreshing to see a movie like that that aims at nothing but mindless fun, and that’s what Zombieland delivers in large emotional ketchup bursts.