When you’re on your own in a land overrun by zombies, survival is difficult business. There’s a certain science to making sure you don’t become lunch. That’s where our narrator Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) comes in.
Columbus is not his real name however; the moniker comes from his hopeful destination of Columbus, Ohio where his parents once resided. A fraidy cat by nature, this overly cautious, shut in has a clear set of rules that have kept him alive.
These rules which start out as simple guidelines like good physical fitness and confirming your zombie kill, play a prominent role in the humor of the film, physically appearing on screen during the appropriate moments. As the movie carries on, these rules evolve much in the same way Columbus does as a character, growing and changing based on his experiences.
On his journey, Columbus encounters Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who becomes the yin to his yang when the two set off on the road together. Also not his real name, Tallahassee, totes a bottle of whiskey and a shotgun, Tennessee bound in a huge SUV. A fearless badass with nothing to lose, Tallahassee gets a sick thrill from killing zombies with guns, knives, and any other weapons he can improvise. As a result, he’s responsible for some of the most entertaining zombie kills of the movie.
Beneath Tallahassee’s callous exterior though, is a rich and complex character with the mind of a child and the heart of a man. In one respect he exudes the joy of a child who’s thrilled he’s literally getting away with murder, but at the same time he is haunted by tragic loss. There are very few moments when he breaks down to let his more vulnerable side through, but when he does it’s hard not to feel his pain.
Scouting for food and supplies in an abandoned grocery store, Columbus and Tallahassee stumble upon the sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Wichita is a strong, beautiful red head who doesn’t trust anyone, and Little Rock is a spunky girl forced to mature well beyond her years, as she struggles to survive by her sister’s side. The two con artists use their feminine wiles to dupe the guys into turning over their weapons, which leaves them stranded as the girls drive away with their guns and their ride.
Eventually the the two embarrassed gentlemen catch up to the girls re-armed with guns and a new gas guzzler. Instead of fighting however, they decide to join forces on a trek to California, the land of sunshine, where Wichita wants to take her sister to the amusement park Pacific Playland.
The tone of the film shifts slightly, becoming more of a road trip movie, in a silly montage of the four bonding over various interests from their lives before the zombie outbreak. They spout pop culture references, while taking turns at the wheel. Columbus develops a major crush on Wichita, while Tallahassee shares a fatherly bond with Little Rock.
Without spoiling too much of the rest of the film, the crew makes it to the amusement park Pacific Playland, which unfortunately for them, but fortunately for us is not zombie free as they had hoped. Flesh eaters are drawn from miles around to the bright flashing lights of amusement at night, and the result is any zombie-phile’s wet dream: an epic showdown ending in piles of corpses and spent ammunition.
Even though “Zombieland” is a comedy, one of the things it does incredibly well is to take time out for serious moments. It shows viewers that when you spend most of your time worrying about killing zombies and staying alive, you occasionally lose sight of your humanity.
“Zombieland” emphasizes that even in an inhuman world, we’re all in need of love and companionship. More importantly, it teaches that sometimes the terms “home” and “family” can take on whatever meaning you want them to. Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock start out as strangers, yet they end up a family in the end.
Many critics have compared this film to the 2004 British zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” but I think “Zombieland” occupies a place all its own in the horror/comedy world. “Zombieland” is loaded with all the guns, action, one-liners, and rocking tunes to keep zombie-philes satisfied. Viewers who like horror with a sense of humor and zombie fans everywhere will get a kick out of this movie.
My Rating: A+