Every decade a generation of filmmakers emerge that change the face of the cinematic landscape with a new style of storytelling. In the 70s, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian DePalma, among others, introduced us to more realistic and complex narratives that were infused with grittiness and social consciousness. The decade also introduced us to the blockbuster film (Jaws, Star Wars). The 80s were dominated by blockbuster special-effects films and their endless sequels. The 90s brought what I like to call the ‘Tarantino Era’ of genre films filled with dialogue referencing pop culture. It also witnessed the rise of the Independent Studios such as Miramax. As for this decade, one could say it is best identified with computer generated effects and animated films. However, I think a more important change occurred late in the decade that coincided with a new generation of filmmakers that are taking over Hollywood. This is a younger generation that grew up in the 80s and 90s and was heavily influenced by the pop culture of those decades, the internet, and video games. The films it has created are self-aware homages to other genres, politically apathetic but socially aware, and sarcastically dry.

Zombieland is such a film from apparent up-and-comers Ruben Fleischer and the writing team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The film takes its cue from George Romero’s Dead series, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, and the comic, The Walking Dead…but with humor. This film compares the most to Shaun of the Dead in that it mixes horror with humor and pays homage to the zombie film genre. I began hearing strong buzz on this film after it previewed at Comic-Con this past summer. Initially I didn’t give much thought to the film other than thinking it had a cool title and poster. After seeing the trailer, however, I was sold.

The film stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and a very special guest star who plays himself. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that the real star of this film is Woody Harrelson (‘Tallahassee’), a Twinkie-loving, badass zombie hunter. He channels a little of his Mickey character from ‘Natural Born Killers,’ which, although flawed, is worth seeing for Harrelson’s performance alone. You warm up to Tallahassee right away and he sets much of the tone and, surprisingly, the heart of the film. I have probably seen Jesse Eisenberg (‘Columbus’) in past films, but this was the first time I noticed him. We are introduced and explore the world through Columbus’ eyes. I didn’t love the character, but I didn’t mind him either. My problem with the character was that it didn’t just remind me of Michael Cera, the character WAS Michael Cera. I don’t know whether the writers wrote the character to be this way or whether Eisenberg decided to play the character like Cera plays all his characters in his movies. Although Cera plays all his characters the same way, I still enjoy his humor, which is why I didn’t mind Eisenberg’s character. However, if we’re going to get Michael Cera, then why not simply have him play the character? Emma Stone (‘Wichita’) and Abigail Breslin (‘Little Rock’) play a perfect pair in this film. This was also my first time I’ve noticed Emma Stone. She convincingly portrays her character as a tough chick con artist who, with her little sister, survive through Zombieland using their wits and sex appeal. You probably all know Breslin from ‘Signs’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and she continues to impress with this film.

One thing I liked about Zombieland was its use of unconventional narrative styles. For example, we’ve all seen the now old and should be retired forever use of a character who explains to the audience the rules of how he operates. The filmmakers decided to take a different approach to this tired device by creatively putting the rules up on the screen and showing the audience how the character applies them. It was innovative, cool, and funny. Flashbacks are another narrative device that are frequently looked down upon by screenwriting teachers because of their excessive usage and tendency to disrupt the pace of a film. I disagree with that notion and its use here is a great example of how flashbacks can work and maintain the film’s pace. The flashbacks are used here to give insight into the characters’ pasts before zombies took over the world. I tried to think of an alternative way for the filmmakers to reveal the characters’ pasts, but other than having the characters go into a lot of exposition with each other about their pasts, the device the filmmakers selected worked the best.

The story is nothing you have not seen before with genre films of this type. The appeal of this movie is the style in which it is told. I mentioned above how the film is likely influenced by the comic book, ‘The Walking Dead.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if the filmmakers are comic book fans. The archetype of the characters are commonly seen in comic books, which is all the more reason for comic geeks to check this film out if they haven’t already. Given this film’s low budget, Ruben Fleischer does a commendable job in convincing the audience that zombies have taken over the world (or at least the U.S.). Fleischer pulls this off without resorting to elaborate and expensive CG establishing shots of a fucked up metropolis in zombie chaos. The director carefully selected his shots to convey the same feeling (for example, he has the characters driving along freeways littered with abandoned cars and visiting empty grocery and convenience stores).

There is one more thing that is worth mentioning: the opening credits. After Watchmen’s FUCKING GREAT opening credits, this is definitely a close second. Zombieland’s opening credits are similar to (and maybe even copied) Watchmen’s opening, but the novelty and appeal of such an opening has clearly not worn off yet and its a wonderful way to open a film and grab the audience’s attention. Also, like Watchmen’s opening, the choice of song is crucial to the success of the opening. The filmmakers could not have selected a better song than Metallica’s For Whom the Bells Toll to begin their film.

Of course, the film isn’t without some problems. One in particular really stood out for me as I watched the film. (*BIG SPOILER ALERT*) After Bill Murray is accidentally killed by Columbus, the characters quickly get over his death and remain in his house having fun. Now I know this film is not meant to be taken seriously and its supposed to be funny. However, the filmmakers imbued the characters with emotional baggage that motivate their goals and actions. Given this playing field the filmmakers have created for their characters, it didn’t feel consistent to have them so nonchalantly get over their killing of Bill Murray. The inconsistency was jarring enough for me to make me notice it during the screening.

Zombieland is not for everyone as you can probably tell from the title alone. However, I highly recommend this film to anyone who likes genre films, comic books, and/or horror. The filmmakers have created interesting and likable characters in a world thats worth exploring. This is one of the rare movies I have seen this year which warrants a sequel.

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