Zombieland is what is known as a post modern zombie movie, i.e., it’s not about how we got zombie’s so much as being about how we live in a world in which zombies are assumed. It’s also post modern in the way it is self aware of what it is, which is very tongue in cheek, at least when the cheeks are not throwing up vile vomit. It revolves around Columbus, a germaphobic loner played by Jessie Eisenberg in his usual nerdy persona. Columbus has 32 rules for surviving zombies, all very smart ones. Unfortunately (for me and apparently for me only, because everyone I talk to loooooooves this movie), the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick don’t seem to think they have to play by any rules at all, especially when it comes to the actions of the characters, who tend to do things more in accordance with the style and objective of the authors rather than what they would really do in such a situation. This means that the characters are extremely smart when Reese and Wernick need them to be, and extremely and inexcusably stupid when Reese and Wernick need them to be. On the plus side, this allows for some clever scenes, especially a very funny Saturday Night Live type sketch starring Bill Murray in a cameo (though the basic comic idea here has already been done in Shawn of the Dead, a movie I preferred overall). At its worst, you can feel nagged and annoyed at the arbitrary nature of much of it. At its best, you can just relax (well, relax as much as you can with the fear that the next bathroom door you open will have a zombie in it) and go along for the ride. The characterizations and dialogue are above average, the most clever aspect of it being that though Columbus’s obsessive compulsiveness and various phobias are the parts of his personalities responsible for his survival (imagine a world in which only Monk and Felix Unger survive), at the same time, the arrival of zombies is the impetus that cures him of his germaphobia and saves him from his destiny of masturbation being his only method of sexual release. Abigail Breslin, as a 12 year old con artist, gives perhaps the best performance here (she’s almost unrecognizable). Though everybody works very hard, both behind and in front of the camera, and the apocalyptic scenery of empty streets and deserted landscapes have a certain beauty to them, in the end, for me, it never really rises to what it wants to be.
In spite of the questionable philosophy behind the story line itself, there is much to admire here. The animation is remarkable and the action sequences exciting. But the real star of the whole shebang may be the sound designers and engineers. The film is filled with strange clicks and berplunks, eerie whinings and buzzings, doing as much to create the reality of this world as the animators themselves. At the same time, the voiceovers may be a matter of taste. For me, only Christopher Plummer’s menacing evil bass really carries the day. The others, like those of Elijah Wood and John C. Reilly, seem a bit awkward, more like voices used to dub anime rather than actors used to create original characters
Though the time is the future, it really has more in common with post World War II Europe. The animation style resembles that of cartoons coming out of post-Communist Eastern Europe. The machinery has an old timey feel as well buoyed by a guest appearance of a crank up Victrola (somehow this world bypassed CD players and iPods). Though the theme is universal, the politics steer clear of anything U.S. of A. with the use of key words by the bad guys like “comrade” and “the state”. One character, dressed like a concentration camp survivor, spends his time creating drawings in a style called concentration camp gothic. And the scenes of a city bombed out use backgrounds that look like the devastated cities of Dresden and Berlin in the 1940’s. In other words, though the destruction of the world is all our faults, some political views and philosophies are more to blame than others. Nothing like hedging one’s bets.
The ending resembles something more anime than something made locally. It sorta, kinda makes sense, but not really and not if one tries to figure it out. The way the evil machine is destroyed feels arbitrary and the characters returning as ghouls perhaps means something to the filmmakers, but it went over my head. The final scene, which I suppose is suppose to be hopeful (it starts raining and the drops contain what seem to be the beginning of life), struck me as incredibly depressing. It’s hard to say what you’re suppose to make of a happy ending which says that everything is going to be all right, or at least it will in 25 million years when evolution again recreates human life as we know it.