Down in Zombieland

Yesterday I watched a new film called Zombieland, the debut effort by a director called Ruben Fleischer. It stars Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg (the latter, incidentally, I could’ve sworn I’d seen in something else but couldn’t find anything I recognised on his IMDb listing) as two of the very few people to have escaped a virus which has turned the rest of the world’s population into brain swollen, flesh hungry zombies. It was one of the most enjoyable trips to the cinema I’ve had for a good long while; less gruelling than District 9, but just as explosively blood-and-gutsy; with none of the serious undertone of The Hurt Locker but just as many of the clever wisecracks.

The film begins with a stylish slo-mo credit sequence showing everyday interactions beset with zombie attacks, soundtracked by a Metallica number (not as effective as the Dawn of the Dead remake’s use of Johnny Cash but still fun), and Eisenberg’s character describing how he’s managed to escape zombification by carefully observing a number of specific rules he’s invented. These rules provide one of several neat structural lynchpins for the rest of the film, as they’re variously sudiously observed and broken. The Eisenberg character happens upon Harrelson’s cowboy nihilist, who takes great pleasure in taking out his anger and frustration (at what we don’t discover until later) by killing the undead in imaginative ways, and together they travel across America, picking up a girl and a young woman along the way. The film culminates in a fantastic showdown at an amusement park, taking in a stayover at the Beverly Hills home of a famous comedian (who cameos as himself).

And that, quite simply, is that. As the Empire review correctly picks up, the zombies themselves are a sideshow (even if they do provide some great gory fun and even a few scares). It’s basically a feel good road movie, with a sweet but never slushy romance thrown in. It’s short (less than 90 minutes), snappy, wonderfully scripted and ably performed. It helps, of course, that Harrelson is one of the most watchable actors there is, and that the female lead is pretty damn hot, but even without these welcome elements this would’ve been an impressively assured piece of film-making for an established director. It’s such fun that I may even look for an excuse to see it again before it closes, and will absolutely buy it on DVD when it comes out.

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