I’m having a hard time keeping up with blogging all of Fantastic Fest, mainly because I keep having a bad time getting an IP address on the theater’s wifi, but I didn’t want to wait to share with everyone what a total badass trip Zombieland is. Fantastic Fest hosted the world premiere of this new film, and director Ruben Fleischer and cast Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg (the kid from Adventureland) and Emma Stone (the chick from Superbad) were there. It was very crowd-pleasing here in Austin that the film starts with Eisenberg’s character travelling from his University of Texas-Austin dorm back to his home city of Columbus.
The four characters are pretty much the only people left alive after a massive viral “fast zombie” outbreak. So as to not get too attached to each other, they don’t even use names, just their cities of origin – Harrelson is “Tallahassee,” a super violent zombie killer, Eisenberg is “Columbus,” Stone is “Wichita,” and Abigail Breslin (aka Nim and Kitt Kittredge), the little girl, is “Little Rock.” If you’ve seen the trailer, you have the general tone of the film – zombie laced dark comedy. It’s always a worry that the jokes in the trailer are “all the good parts” and what’s left over is boring – but not in this case; the duo of Harrelson and Eisenberg is funny every step of the way.
There’s a surprising amount going on; though there aren’t many breaks from the nonstop and entertaining wisecracking and/or zombie killing, each of the four human characters are clearly defined and have their own internal conflict and arc going on. (There’s a fifth human character, in an awesome turn, but I’m not going to give away the surprise by telling you who.)
Eisenberg’s character refers frequently to his “rules” of survival in Zombieland, from Rule 1: Cardio, to Rule 17: Never be a hero. The rules are dynamically superimposed on the screen throughout the movie, in a way that could have been been distracting but instead flows really well and adds to the humor. It’s a very interesting and nonstandard effect.
The action and zombie kills are bad ass, melding comedy and brutality seamlessly, whether it’s death by banjo, carnival ride, car door, toilet tank cover, hedge clippers… It never quite goes over the line to pure camp, however, allowing you to stay “in the moment” with the cast of characters. It’s also very interesting to just have the four characters to deal with – besides zombies and Surprise Person #5, it’s all these four actors all the time, which lends itself to a economy of scene that eliminates distractions and keeps the focus on their interaction.
The characters are not a terribly reflective bunch; first Tallahassee and Columbus meet and decide to stick together even though the former can tell the latter is “kind of a bitch.” They get grifted by the two chicks but all end up travelling together, with various vague ends in mind – they’re not seriously planning for the long term; you get the impression that they have some things they’d like to see and do but pretty much the fall of civilization has resulted in them just not giving too much of a shit about anything any more. There’s several scenes where the characters destroy things (like an Indian kitsch store in Arizona) pretty much just because they can. Part of the development of the movie is them being able to learn to even give a shit about each other, their few remaining fellow humans. They’ve all learned habitual distrust of others, as some might expect when the end comes.
The characters were well balanced, at least the main three (they didn’t make as much use of Breslin as they could have), but Harrelson really steals the show with his character’s exuberance and little twists – he’s always seeking the last Twinkie; he always paints a Dale Earnheart “3” on the sides of his appropriated Mad Max-mobiles; he really loves killing zombies in as hand to hand a way as possible…
The crowd went insane for this movie; it’s destined to become a horror-comedy gold standard. A comparison to Shaun of the Dead is inevitable; I love both movies but they are quite different – Zombieland is a lot more energetic overall – more high-flying action; still a buddy comedy with a romantic element but a lot more – well, American; direct in humor and action sensibility.
So in summary – I loved it, all who saw it loved it, you will love it.