Zombieland stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin and was directed by Ruben Fleischer. It tells the story of Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, as he embarks on a cross-country journey after a zombie outbreak decimates the world. Along the way, he encounters three other survivors and together they endeavor to find a zombie-free place to settle. With a name like Zombieland, I can see how some people might be unwilling to give this movie a shot, but I’ve gotta say – you’re only depriving yourself. Even though the name might conjure images of a generic direct-to-video zombie movie, this film actually has a lot to offer.
It’s easy to forget how unique this movie was, and honestly still is. Over the last decade, film and tv have been a bit oversaturated by zombies, but Zombieland came out near the beginning of the zombie popularity resurgence. In fact, I think this movie (along with The Walking Dead which first aired the following year) really helped to galvanize the zombie resurgence by making the genre more accessible.
That accessibility, in large part, stems from the humor here. Horror comedies are nothing new and neither are zomcoms; my personal favorite preceded this movie by five years. But, the way the humor is approached here helps to set it apart. The dialogue is full of these oddity one-liners that are really entertaining and the sarcastic, dry, matter-of-fact voice-over narration by Columbus adds an additional layer of humor.
It brings a set of pseudo-meta elements into play that when combined with the integrated on-screen rules, super slow-mo, and Zombie Kill of the Week cutaways results in a very distinctive and unique style. Regardless of if you’re talking about comedies or straight-up horror, the best zombie movies all have something in common: characters you care about. Zombie carnage is fun and certainly an important element of these movies, but if that’s all a zombie movie has to offer, it’s not gonna be particularly compelling.
Zombies are an inherently fantastical thing, so you need that character connection to latch onto the story and really ground everything. As surprising as it may sound (even to people who’ve seen Zombieland), this movie is incredibly character-based. It’s fun and gory and funny, but you quickly grow to care about the four main characters. You root for Columbus and want to see him survive and get the girl in spite of all his phobias and hang-ups. You care about Wichita and Little Rock and their sisterly bond. And Tallahassee? I mean, come on – you want him to finally find that Twinkie.
It might sound a bit melodramatic, but at its core, Zombieland is about family. It’s about finding others who can support you and have your back. And putting that into the context of a zombie-ridden post-apocalyptic future really works. Like I said, this is very character-based and that might surprise you. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen this movie and I never really noticed just how character-centric it was until recently. Cause, this movie doesn’t actually have much of a plot. It mostly consists of the various interactions among our four characters and them trying to survive the zombie apocalypse.
There is an overarching end goal that emerges about halfway through the film, but even having a clear destination for the characters doesn’t really constitute as a plot so much as a kinda silly set-up for a ridiculous, yet entertaining third act action sequence. All of the plot points that come before that really consist of a series of fun, but meandering vignette-style sequences.
I don’t normally like that kind of thing, but cause they mostly all work towards serving the characters and building their relationships and backstories, I’ve never really noticed how plotless this movie actually is. But, that doesn’t really matter cause the plot truly isn’t the focus here. Instead, it’s the overall premise and especially the characters that we’re invested in. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the characters.
I said it before, but I’m gonna say it again: compelling characters are what make a good zombie movie good. If the characters are just zombie food, you’re not gonna get invested enough. But, our four main characters here are compelling. They’re unique and interesting and you really grow to care about them over the course of two hours. As quirky as they may be at times and as ridiculous as the zombie apocalypse scenario is, these four characters still feel like real people. And because they feel real, you want them to survive. You can see yourself or your family or your friends in them and you want them to be okay.
The second pro is the comedy. Obviously comedy is a subjective thing, but this is the kinda movie that has a little bit of something for everyone. Maybe you like visual gags, so the thought of slow-motion comedy-tinged zombie carnage is appealing to you. Maybe you like witty, dry humor and get a kick out of Columbus’ narration. Maybe you like buddy cop style comedy or road trip movies, so the humorous interactions among the main characters are the big draw for you.
Maybe you just like Bill Murray? Well hey, you’ve got some of him here too. Whatever your comedic preferences are, there’s gonna be something in this for you. As far as cons go, my biggest issue has gotta be the third act. But, I should clarify and say that my issue lies with the plot-aspects of the third act. Pacific Playland is certainly a fun setting that lends itself to some very entertaining zombie scenes, so I do still find the third act quite enjoyable. It just frustrates me with the series of really stupid decisions made by some of the characters.
They’re people who’ve made it this far into the apocalypse and have been established as pretty street-smart characters who can take care of themselves. So, their stupid choices in this third act are just very unusual and the whole thing really stands out as an excuse to have some cool zombie action sequences in an amusement park. My second con is pretty minor, but it’s the lack of a true plot. I do think the meandering, vignette-style approach worked for the most part since the focus really is on the characters, but I do wish there was a bit more substance to the narrative. Again, this isn’t something I even really noticed until recently, but now that I have, I think it’s gonna stick out a bit on subsequent rewatches.
I’m gonna give Zombieland 4 out of 5 paws. People like to throw around the phrase “lightning in a bottle” a lot, but this is one movie that I think is actually deserving of that description. It just came out at the right time with the right mix of ingredients to produce something surprisingly satisfying. I would recommend Zombieland to anybody who likes horror comedies or, perhaps even more broadly, to anybody who likes comedies.
It’s a bit crass and gory at times, but other than a few instances, this really has universal appeal. If you’re a fan of zombies or especially of zomcoms, you really need to give this one a watch. If you liked Zombieland, my number one recommendation would definitely be Shaun of the Dead. It’s my favorite zombie comedy, not to mention my favorite movie in general too.
It’s got a good balance of comedy and gore and also has a fantastic set of characters that you grow to truly care about. If you liked the humor, but maybe want something from the zombie perspective too, I’d suggest you check out Warm Bodies. And if you’re not interested in the zombie aspects, but just want another 2009 amusement park-centric Jesse Eisenberg movie with a similar name, you might want to watch Adventureland. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Zombieland? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: Where would you go during a zombie apocalypse? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.