EZMM 2020 Day 1.1: Zombieland (2009)

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Welcome to the launch of the 2020 Easter Zombie Movie Marathon! Over the past twelve years, we’ve watched a TON of low-budget feature length zombie films but somehow, 2009’s Zombieland had slipped through the cracks. Luckily, last year, after a ten year wait, the sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap was released, so Dr. Girlfriend and I decided it was high time to revisit a film that neither one of us had watched in the ten years it took to get Double Tap in theaters. And to be fair to both films, I’m writing this review after rewatching Zombieland, but before watching Double Tap for the first time.

2009 was a good year for zombie cinema (and yes, that is a thing), both in terms of good films and for good schlock. We had Dead Snow, La Horde, Mutants, [REC] 2, The Revenant, Zombie Girl, and my personal favorite of the year, Pontypool. There were also a few less memorable films, like Gallowswalkers (filmed in 2009, but not released until 2012 due to Wesley Snipes’ tax problems), Doghouse,  and Survival of the Dead (Romero’s fifth sequel to Night of the Living Dead). But Zombieland was something special.

Zombieland had a budget.

Theatrically released on October 2, 2009, Zombieland was directed by first-timer, Ruben Fleischer (Venom), written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who would go on to write Deadpool and Deadpool 2), and starred Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as survivors of the zombie apocalypse on the road in search of home, family, and safety.

Well, those things all came later. At first, they were all just looking to survive and maybe find some twinkies.

The story is pretty straight-forward, as I’m sure you know. Our main characters, identified only by where they’re from, Tallahassee (Harrelson), Columbus (Eisenberg), Wichita (Stone), and Little Rock (Breslin), start as enemies, but become allies as they drive cross country to reach the fabled zombie-free zone of amusement park, Pacific Playland. Relationships are forged, betrayed, and then everybody gets a happy ending. It’s super-commercial and super-engaging and became the highest grossing zombie film since 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake (Resident Evil: Afterlife and World War Z would eventually overtake it).

There’s not a whole lot to say about the film. There’s not a lot of subtext or social criticism to be had. It’s simply a good, solid story with good, solid characters. There’s a bit of casual sexist masculinity on display (as seen in the film’s promotional tag “Nut up or shut up”), but it never overpowers the fact that the characters are good people, and even Tallahassee gets a sweet and sad backstory that allows for some teary-eyed bonding. It’s a little disappointing that the girls end up having to be rescued in the end, and their obsessive need to get to Pacific Playland is clearly an almost suicidal desperation for normalcy, but every great zombie film needs an iconic setting to help make it stand out from the crowd, and zombie hordes in an amusement park is a fantastic idea that Fleischer takes good advantage of.

But really, we all know that what makes this one of the all-time classics (aside from the extremely clever introduction of Columbus’ Rules for Survival) is the guest-appearance by Bill Murray playing himself. There were a lot of other potential cameos that the filmmakers played around with, but Murray playing Murray is just about the most Murray thing I can think of. Particularly his fondness for dressing like a zombie and getting out of the house and golfing.

It almost makes me sad that he came back to the genre for last year’s The Dead Don’t Die. As a one-and-done appearance in the genre, it was perfect.

Zombieland showed that it was possible to make a zombie film that was graphically violent – they do not skimp on the gore effects here, folks – but still had heart and could make you laugh out loud. But it wasn’t easy. It took millions of dollars ($23.6 million, to be exact) and it took name talent along with a major motion picture studio behind the release (Sony Pictures). Eventually it became one of the top ten highest-grossing zombie films of all time, which is kind of impressive given that six of the top ten are Resident Evil movies.

This is one that really does hold up pretty well over time. Ten years on and it’s still an easy-to-watch, highly enjoyable experience. Now the question remains, will Double Tap be able to hold a candle to the original. We’ll have something to say about that in just a little while…

(Visited 117 times, 1 visits today)