Production Companies: Columbia Pictures, Relative Media, Pariah
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Producers: Gavin Polone
Scriptwriters: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Main Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin
Release Date: October 2nd 2009 (US)
Running Time: 88 minutes
From the eventual director of Venom comes a meta, stupid, zombie horror comedy which blew up at the box office: Zombieland. Despite a mediocre sequel released in 2019, Zombieland still holds up as a fun, irreverent look back at a time where we weren’t sick of zombie related media thanks to a great cast and a certain cameo from a former Ghostbuster. Spoiler it’s not Dan Aykroyd…. So, without further ado here is my review of the film.
The film starts with the audience learning that a zombie apocalypse started in the United States which infected the vast majority of the population and turned them into zombies. Survivors of the apocalypse learned not to grow too attached to others, because they could die at any moment. This has led to the survivors taking the name of their city of birth.
When Columbus met Tallahassee
We then meet lonely student Columbus (Eisenberg) is making his way back to his hometown in Columbus, Ohio from Austin, Texas to see if his parents are still alive. On the way, he encounters Tallahassee (Harrelson), another survivor, who is VERY aggressive in killing zombies. Despite not appearing friendly, Tallahassee allows Columbus to travel along with him. In some rushed character building, Tallahassee mentions how his puppy, Buck, was killed by zombies. Oh, he’s also addicted to Twinkies….
Columbus and Tallahassee meet Wichita and Little Rock
Conveniently, Tallahassee and Columbus bump into two more survivors, Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin), in a grocery store. But swerve! They turn out to be con artists who steal the boy’s weapons before taking their vehicle as well. Luckily, they find another vehicle loaded with weapons and go after the girls. However, it’s another swerve! The girls spring another trap and take them hostage. Tallahassee then steals his gun back and confronts Wichita before Columbus intervenes and reminds them about a slighter bigger problem. I think it was zombie related…. All of this leads to an uneasy truce between the sides.
The journey to Los Angeles
For the convenience of the plot (and character development) the girls reveal they are travelling to the Pacific Playland theme park in Los Angeles. This is conveniently free of zombies….. After learning his hometown was destroyed (and his parents are most likely dead) Columbus decides to accompany the others to Los Angeles. Oh, Columbus also spends the trip trying to impress and woo Wichita.
The gang meet Bill Murray
When the gang finally arrives in California, Tallahassee directs them to the mansion of Bill Murray. So we’re just going to skip over Tallahassee knowing where Bill Murray lives? Ok, well he and Wichita meet Murray who has disguised himself as a zombie so he can walk around town without being attacked. Smart idea…. until he pranks Columbus while he watches Ghostbusters with Little Rock. So, Columbus panics and shoots Bill Murray.
On a lighter (?) note during a game of Monopoly Columbus realises Buck wasn’t Tallahassee’s dog but rather his young son who died of an infection. Wichita and Columbus begin to fall for each other… before she worries about becoming too attached to him and leaves for Pacific Playland with Little Rock. After convincing Tallahassee to join him, Columbus heads after the girls.
The showdown at Pacific Playland
At Pacific Playland, the girls turn on all the lights to enjoy the theme park. However, unsurprisingly this attracts a horde of nearby zombies. Even more unfortunately, Wichita and Little Rock get stuck on a tower ride, However, Tallahassee and Columbus show up with Columbus making a run for the girls due to Tallahassee locking himself in a booth and shooting zombies as a distraction.
Columbus rescues the girls with Wichita kissing him as thanks before revealing her real name: Krista. As the group leave Pacific Playland, Columbus realises without relating to other people you might as well be a zombie. He also realises he has something he always wanted: a family.
The Rules in Zombieland
The first part of my analysis of Zombieland is going to focus on Columbus’s rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse. Now, what are these rules? Well, there are 30 odd rules throughout the film which are all helpfully depicted on screen during key moments. So, what are some of these rules? Examples include Rule #1 Cardio and Rule #2 Double Tap amongst many others. But the obvious question from these rules: why they are important and what are the effects of these rules? The reason the rules were included, from my perspective, is to reinforce the meta nature of Zombieland.
Because of how many zombie films there have been, both before and after, there are plenty of tropes to make fun of. This is shown through the first rule to surviving Zombieland Rule #1 Cardio. During the scene where we first met Columbus, Zombieland goes meta with the fact that zombie films often feature characters being caught by zombies, mostly due to being caught up by zombies. So, this is why seeing Columbus outpace zombies with a giant illuminated cardio rule in the background is so funny. Another key effect is it shows how the film isn’t taking itself seriously like most other zombie media, cough Walking Dead cough, which only adds to the meta nature of the scene.
The Meta Nature of Zombieland
For the second part of my Zombieland analysis, I’m going to focus on the meta nature of the film. Back in 2009, self aware and meta films were very rare so when Zombieland came along it showed how zombie films could become very reflexive. This reflexivity was possible because of how many zombie films there have been which often feature the same story beats and tropes. For example, how many zombie films have you seen that feature characters getting caught by zombies that are too slow? Or that features a seemingly endless amount of supporting characters? Well, Zombieland uses these tropes and the narration from Columbus to endlessly mock zombie movie tropes.
I’ve already mentioned the first point in the paragraph above but I’ll quickly dive into the second point now. In terms of a main cast, Zombieland only features four characters (Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita, Little Rock) Compare this with the Walking Dead which, while a TV show, features a never ending parade of side characters most of which the audience can never truly gain a connection to. Yes while that’s the point of not getting too close to other Zombieland is a much funnier example of this. Take for example the scene of Columbus’s hot neighbour basically kickstarting his fear and mistrust at points for others. This immediately tells the audience a key part of Columbus’s character…. through voiceover. This just serves to make Zombieland feel like Columbus is a good friend recounting the zombie apocalypse to the audience. God, so meta and wonderful.
Character Development in Zombieland
For the final part of my Zombieland analysis I’m going to focus on how characters develop across the film. The most obvious character to start on in Columbus. While he starts out as an awkward, socially nervous college student he ends up as an awkward, mildly socially confident college student in a relationship. Maybe it was just me but Columbus feels particularly relatable… Anyway, a major part of his character development is when he meets Wichita and their interactions together. The use of a two shot for their little heart to heart really hammers home the fact that, despite his rules, Columbus just needed someone to talk to and stay alongside him. Aww, that’s surprisingly sweet for a stupid, meta zombie film.
Speaking of Wichita despite her being positioned as the love interest she still has a lot of agency and isn’t entirely motivated by Columbus. An example of this is how she manipulates Columbus and Tallahassee into giving her and Little Rock their guns. It really is amazing how much a character can change between two films isn’t it Zombieland: Double Tap? Sidenote Wichita’s character really is very different in both halves of the film as an example of decent character development.
To summarise Zombieland, this is a fun, stupid, meta zombie film which doesn’t take itself too seriously due to a good cast and stupid jokes. It also continued the trend of big blockbuster zombie films and meta films. Overall, a fun way to kill time when on Amazon Prime.
Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable
Target Audience: 15+
Content Warning: Moderate Frightening and Intense Scenes, Moderate Profanity, Moderate Alcohol and Drugs References, Mild Sex and Nudity, Severe Violence and Gore