“Without other people, you might as well be a zombie.” Thought one might expect a film called Zombieland, to be primarily about zombies, Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 horror-comedy movie, merely uses them as as a backdrop to the main story at hand- a story about humanity and the paradox of trust. Like Schopenhauer’s porcupine, each of the four main characters wants to trust and open up to each other, but their respective traumas and previous misgivings serve as the real antagonists of the film, and represent the real final bosses they have to overcome.
The decision to refer to each character by a code-name exemplifies this conundrum. When Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) first meets Tallahasee (Woody Harrelson), the latter explicitly rejects formal names, instead using places that relate to their background. The names serve as the most obvious signal that people in this world no longer trust one another- in a world over run by the un- dead, unknown people could just bring you down and/or ruin your chances of survival. Their paths soon cross with Wichita (Emma Stone) and her little sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), and from there, the real story begins.
One thing the film does really well to develop the characters in lieu of names and paltry introductions is to constantly group and re-group certain characters, to help define their individual relations to their group relations and so on. These groupings help to create a more fulfilled and nuanced picture of each character ,making their personal journeys and attempts to overcome their self-defense mechanisms more fulfilling and well-deserved.
I love how the backdrop of the movie feels so much like a video-game. The opening shot does a great job of emphasizing the chaos and destruction the zombies wreak on the planet. From the early shaky cam, to the immediate on screen death, to the imploding and devastated planet- we’re all aware that the Earth has immediately gone through something graphic, but it almost feels like an intro cut scene to a game, before the player gets control of their character. The presentation of Columbus’s “rules” also helps sell the gamey feel of everything. They become part of the environment like on-screen instructions in a game.
There are also plenty of slow-motion shots used during action sequences- like when zombies run into a weapon or experience impact. These help the moments they’re used in feel more hype and comedic. All together, the elements help us enjoy the spectacle but invest into the characters and their personal struggles, creating a more rich viewing experience.
The humor in the movie was great and felt natural. A lot if it just felt like the characters expending loose emotions and felt like a transgressive laugh, in the face of an uncaring and cruel universe. Honestly, there were a lot of moments where I wanted to go and check up if the director had read any of Georges Bataille’s works given the way the characters interact with death and tension. All the effort spent in building up the characters and situations, really helps sell some of the funnier punches the movie has to offer.
My biggest issue with the movie is with one of the movie’s strengths- Jesse Eisenberg’s constant self-narration. The movie often takes the point of view of Columbus, who often monologues or reveals his insights as certain scenes progress. But a few of these revelations felt like they took away from some of the more emotional moments of the movie. I counted at least two moments, where a series of events played out on scene, and as a viewer I could “see” the point of it and emotionally resonated with the same. But then, immediately following it, I’d hear Columbus’s voice trying to explain the significance of what I saw and try and add in a funny or wise quip. It didn’t happen enough to derail the movie or its messages, but it definitely made certain scenes less effective.
TLDR: Zombieland is a beautiful character-driven movie about trust and human relations masquerading as a zombie-comedy movie. The overall aesthetic and attention to character development really help hit some great character moments and keeps the viewer engaged, despite some distracting narrative issues.
Final Rating: 8.5/10. I enjoyed the journey through Zombieland, and would highly reccomend to anyone who needs a laugh or wants their faith in humanity to heal a bit. If you like it – Zombieland: Double Tap is coming out on the 18th of this month. I don’t know why they waited 10 years for a sequel, but better late than never.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!