DVD Release Date: February 2, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: October 2, 2009
Rating: R (for horror violence/gore and language)
Run Time: 81 min.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Actors: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Mike White
The recent, 88-minute Surrogates demonstrated how weak a film with a short running time can be. A story with the potential to be profound came off as simply silly, hindered by underdeveloped themes and characters.
Now, the 81-minute Zombieland shows just how good a film with a short running time can be. It aims lower—more for the funny bone than the brain—and delivers a lively story about the undead. It even anchors its energetic, extended road tale with expressions about the need for family and for human relationships built on trust rather than deceit.
But make no mistake—the messages about family are secondary to the main event: zombie killing.
With no pretense to being something deep and meaningful, Zombieland lays out its premise in a spectacular opening and then follows through with a straightforward survival tale for its four characters—the last remaining humans in a world taken over by the undead. Lone travelers Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin)—each named for their intended destination—are thrown together after having seen their family members and loved ones fall to the zombies. Can they build enough trust in each other to avoid the fate of the rest of humanity?
Columbus narrates the film, informing us that he might be the last human in a world overrun by zombies. His family and friends have all fallen to the undead, who seek out any and all human survivors. But Columbus has, quite literally, rules to live by, and he shares them with the audience. Rule #1: Cardio. When the zombies came after their human prey, "the fatties were the first to go," Columbus informs us. So, lesson learned: Work out, stay fit, and you'll always be able to outrun the undead. Rule # 2: Beware of bathrooms. Zombies attack their human prey when they're at their most vulnerable.
The list is ever growing, but it keeps the lonely Columbus occupied, and alive. He's on his way to Ohio, when he encounters Tallahassee, a tough-talking, gun-toting Twinkie-junkie who lives for the thrill of another zombie kill. Tallahassee's swagger impresses the mild-mannered Columbus, but the two of them are no match for Wichita and Little Rock, a female duo who have learned not to trust anyone but themselves. They peg Columbus and Tallahassee as easy marks, only to find themselves dependent on the boys to get them to their destination: a Southern California amusement park rumored to be zombie-free.
The zombie attacks in the film are numerous, and may be a bit horrific for some, although the tone is more over-the-top than outright frightening. (Some of the imagery is graphic, but brief.) Adding to the humor quotient is an extended cameo appearance by an actor who's billed in the credits, but best not known about going into the film. His appearance is so far out of left field that it's a wonder the movie gets away with it—testament to the zany spirit the actor has embodied throughout his career, and which this movie has in spades.
Zombieland is a lark, but one that tries to be meaningful. Columbus speaks of his "shut-in" parents, and of how he's always wanted a "normal family." He feels some semblance of a family dynamic with Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock, but at times still feels isolated. "We were all orphans in Zombieland," he says at one low moment, but his concluding remarks about relationships are more hopeful.
The idea of zombies is, of course, at odds with what Christians know about death and the afterlife. Zombieland isn't going to win any awards for theological correctness, nor for family friendliness. However, for an R-rated horror film, it's surprisingly funny, and at times even a little heartwarming—elements missing from the disgusting, depressing torture porn films of recent years, and even from the more moody, atmospheric American remakes of popular Japanese horror films The Grudge and Dark Water. In spirit, it's much closer to spoofs like Shaun of the Dead—amusing and even clever, rather than horrifying and traumatizing.
Zombieland won't change your life, but it also likely won't keep you up at night, haunted by disturbing images. The film is creative, well-acted by its male leads, and even a bit surprising. It won't win any Academy Awards, but at this point, it's one of the year's more entertaining films.
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- Language/Profanity: Various coarse and crass references, as well as an extensive list of curse words, including multiple forms of the f-word, the s-word, and several instances of the Lord's name taken in vain.
- Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: Tallahassee drinks and drives, shares bottle with Columbus, who spits out the liquid while Tallahassee isn't looking; bong hits are shown; wine is consumed.
- Sex/Nudity: Columbus suggests he's a virgin; euphemisms for sex include "went heels to Jesus"; a gas station employee stares at Wichita's backside; masturbation.
- Violence/Crime: Car accidents; gruesome, bloody zombie attacks; man thrown from balcony; female zombie is nude, upper body is shown; lots of gunfire from various weapons; a zombie eats a corpse's innards; a violent event with a yard tool is heard off-screen; suggested suicide never transpires; depiction of "zombie kill of the week"; hands and forearms—and nothing else—are attached to a steering wheel; two women know how to pull off a con; a woman holds a man hostage at gunpoint; destruction of a gift shop; amusement park ride ends badly for zombies; motorcycle is wrecked.
- Marriage/Family: Columbus repeatedly expresses his desire for a stable family.