And Zombieland is just that — a comedy. If you’re in the mood for a horror film, or even for a comedy-horror film, then Zombieland won’t scratch that itch. There’s blood and gore aplenty plus more Harrelson-on-Zombie violence than you can shake a banjo at, but because the entire film is played for laughs, and because the violence is of the Itchy ‘n’ Scratchy variety (one zombie is even killed by having a piano dropped on it from a building), there’s never a single moment of genuine horror. I’m not even sure there’s a single moment where the viewer is supposed to jump in fright; it’s a screwball action comedy set in a post-Zombie-Apocalypse America.
But it’s a very funny screwball action comedy set in a post-Zombie-Apocalypse America. The film follows Columbus, a college student, as he survives against all the odds in a world where pretty much everyone else has become a zombie thanks to a contaminated service-station burger (“Remember mad cow disease? Well, mad cow became mad person became mad zombie…”) The four characters (and with the exception of one of the great “As Himself” cameo appearances in cinema history, and a couple of brief flashbacks, there are only four characters in the film — the rest are interchangeable undead) are referred to by the name of the town they were born in — the aforementioned Columbus who narrates with a wonderfully dry self-deprecation, the girl he’s trying to get together with (Wichita), her 12-year old sister (Little Rock) and the ass-kicking Tallahassee played by Woody Harrelson who gets most of the good lines and steals almost every scene (“When Tallahassee gets going, he sets the standard for “not to be fucked with”).
The central running gag concerns The Rules For Surviving Zombieland, as drawn up by Columbus, which appear as three dimensional text that interact with the scene whenever they’re referred to. It’s not overdone and because the film — aware of its limitations and realising it’s more a live-action cartoon than a feature film — is only 88 minutes long including credits, you’re left wanting more rather than ending up tired of the joke.
And speaking of cartoons, it didn’t surprise me to learn that the film was co-written by Rhett Reese, one of the writers of Pixar’s glorious animated comedy Monsters, Inc. Despite the over-the-top gore and violence of Zombieland, there’s a similarity to the humour that shines right through.
The motivations of the characters (beyond mere survival) are similarly cartoonish. The two girls are travelling across the country to go to an amusement park they used to visit. Columbus was originally trying to return home but quickly realises he’s playing the “cherche la femme” role. And Tallahassee’s on the road trip because he’s searching for a final Twinkie before they all go out of date (“Pretty soon life’s little Twinkie gauge is gonna go empty”). Together they kill a bunch of zombies in imaginative ways and exchange some of the funniest Tarantinoesque dialogue to hit cinema screens for a few years. The way Harrelson delivers lines like “I hate coconut. Not the taste; the consistency” or “I haven’t cried like that since Titanic” had me clapping my hands with mirth, and right at the end of the movie his delivery of the three words “It’s too soon” had me weeping with laughter. You’ll understand if you see it.
I’m struggling to think of a film I enjoyed more this year. It’s as low brow as they come. It’s unashamedly silly and lightweight and isn’t going to change anyone’s life. But it is pure, unadulterated fun. It had me laughing from the first scene and rarely let up until the credits arrived. If you’re haemophobic, then it’s probably not the movie for you. Everyone else should check it out for an hour and a half of genuine hilarity.