Longtime Gibberish readers may have noticed how much I like zombies. Zombie fiction is an easy way for audiences to address otherwise unwieldy topics like disaster preparedness and materialism. It is also an easy way to convey the concept that sometimes the real monsters are people, and that human nature may be to step on any number of other people to look out for yourself. While often light-hearted, the recent Zombieland film covers all of those bases and pushes all the right buttons.
Zombieland stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone (tv show “Drive,” Superbad), and Abigail Breslin (who has thirty acting credits in her thirteen year old life). I’d never heard of Eisenberg before, but he plays a typical softspoken, loner computer nerd very very well. It turns out all of the anti-social behavior and health phobias his character displayed before the apocalypse serves him well when he is one of the last people on earth. His rules of survival (Rule #1: Cardio) are shown throughout the movie, and the effect is humorous without being too over-the-top.
Harrelson’s character is batshit crazy; it reminds me of Matthew McConaughey’s character in Reign of Fire. Harrelson has suffered a deep loss, and the only thing that propels him forward is killing every zombie he can. Well, that and Twinkies.
Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin play sisters who have had to survive by any means necessary even before Zombieland. It’s an interesting writing choice that three out of the four survivors are already outsiders; most films portray the Everyman type in an effort to draw an immediate parallel between current human behavior and behavior under pressure. It represents the refinement of zombie commentary, and is more subtle than the Romero series. In many ways, Zombieland reminds me of Shaun of the Dead. There is no racial or gender analysis in Zombieland, and although there are several references to consumerism and America’s fascination with spectacle it never comes back to seriously bite the characters in the ass.
As a matter of disclosure, the zombies aren’t, really, zombies at all. They are infected, similar to 28 Days Later. The movie cites mad cow disease jumping species and then mutating to drive humans insane. It was a little disappointing to see another film with fast-moving zombies in it. They’re more like really angry humans with a very very high tolerance for pain. They can be killed by egregious damage instead of just brain shots — Woody Harrelson goes on a rather Hollywood-style killing spree late in the movie — but all in all the effect is just the same. One zombie is manageable, two is troublesome and more is reason to panic.
Which brings me to my only real complaint about the movie: there were no zombie hordes. At the height of the movie there were perhaps fifty zombies on screen. There are more than fifty people on my floor at work, let alone the entire building. I expected to see a lot more undead, especially when the group burrows deep into the heart of a major American city.
All in all, if you liked Shaun of the Dead you will probably like Zombieland. I plan on seeing it in the theater again next week. Give it a look, and always remember Rule #32: Enjoy the small things in life.