61 Days of Halloween: Zombieland

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The facile comparison, and also the attention-grabber, when discussing Zombieland is to try and compare it to Shaun of the Dead. The impulse is understandable but an errant one. There is a major but subtle difference between the two, Shaun of the Dead, like the subsequent Wright/Pegg project, Hot Fuzz, is a spoof which about midway through metamorphoses into the genre spoofed. Meanwhile, Zombieland is a tongue-in-cheek zombie story which is much less self-conscious.

The most self-conscious aspect of it serves a very valuable function, which is the list of rules for survival which the protagonist, referred to as Columbus, develops. The rules serve very good comedic effect, if at times becoming too prominent a part of the story by appearing on screen as a graphic, but at the very least the filmmakers have fun with it.

What is most surprising about Zombieland is that in being consistently funny, and remaining myopically focused on four central characters, it manages to become a more complete experience than most zombie films can be. There are actually a few real scares including Columbus’s first encounter with the undead, and what’s impressive is that it tries less often than a traditional horror film but succeeds more frequently.

Conversely, the rare dramatic/serious scenes also work quite well, again because the characters are well established, their conundrum is easily recognizable and we can identify with their plight, as surreal as it may seem.

What Zombieland proves is that when well done, people are always ready for a new twist on an old hat genre. The zombie is undoubtedly the hot commodity in the horror genre, sorry vampires. The reason for this is because they offer the perfect vehicle for social commentary, even when you’re not trying very hard. Even though Zombieland tries a little too hard at the end; it’s forgivable. Just having the living dead roaming about makes reference to both our humanity and inhumanity; either we are walking through the world in a daze or we are savagely mistreating people and killing off our own kind; any attempts to expound on this imagery only furthers the concept.

Zombieland always stays, first and foremost, a comedy with very funny dialogue and hilarious performances by all those involved. Perhaps the funniest being a very unexpected but welcome “as himself” appearance towards the end, which will be left as a surprise.

The film moves briskly, with great fun and has some of the creative and artistic use of slow-motion that has been seen in some time. The narration, while ever present, never seems to get in the way even though you never learn what causes such omniscience you laugh anyway at things like the cutaway to the Zombie Kill of the Week.

In the landscape of the horror genre that is so full of sludge that people latch on to anything halfway decent as if it’s gold, it’s great to see a film come along, even though mostly comedic, that both doesn’t misrepresent the genre but enhances it. The makeup is very good and these zombies didn’t try to re-invent the wheel like the first fast ones a few years ago did.

It is a very enjoyable movie-going experience that you’ll likely want to see again.


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