In a world with more movies I want to see than I will ever have the time to, I try not to rewatch the same ones all that often. There are a few exceptions, however. When I first watched Zombieland in theaters back in 2009, I immediately wanted to buy another ticket to watch it again. Of course, I was an unemployed college student, so I saved up to buy it on DVD months later instead. Since then, I’ve called Zombieland as my favorite film of this century, besides Toy Story 3. There aren’t many movies I would consider rewatching right away. This is a rarity.
Zombieland isn’t just the best zombie movie I’ve ever seen, but the best road movie I’ve ever seen.
Our main protagonist is Jesse Eisenberg’s character, known as Columbus, who narrates the story as it happens, beginning two months after a strain of mad cow disease has turned almost every American into a zombie. Acknowledging his unassuming and unathletic appearance, Columbus admits that his survival is due to his set of rules, which he strictly abides by. Things like “always wear a seatbelt” or “make sure you have good cardio”. He’s never been close to any of his family, but decides to venture to Ohio where his parents live to see if they’re alive.
Along the way, he meets Woody Harrelson, whose character goes by Tallahassee. Tallahassee is an unapproachable and unsociable savage who reluctantly agrees to take Columbus on board. Oh yeah, and he’s obsessed with finding a Twinkie. The two polar opposites have each evolved to become survivors in his own way.
I can’t tell who’s better–Eisenberg and Harrelson. The actors play their respective roles as though they were born for them. The pair has an undeniable chemistry and a dynamic that carries the film. Tallahassee’s ruggedness and unflappability provide a perfect counterpoint to Columbus’ paranoia and compulsiveness in order to balance the film and help one another grow as their trajectories meet in the middle, and soon you can’t imagine one without the other.
Eventually the guys meet two more humans, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who have conned their way across the country.
Zombieland isn’t just a gratuitous zombie road film, but a movie filled with enticing characters. My only compliant is that the movie is too short. At 88 minutes, we want to spend more time with these people we’ve grown attached to. We want to know where they go next.
Director Ruben Fleischer doesn’t waste any scenes in this film. Each one is as important and memorable as the next. His biggest accomplishment is how he fits such a big world into such a small movie. He establishes a tone, both genuinely funny and morbid, never taking itself too seriously–for better or worse. His zombie kills are addictingly inventive and his crafty use of the perennial voiceover never grates on you. In fact, it adds to the charm, making the movie feel even bigger (and longer).
Zombieland doesn’t just feel like a movie, but an entirely new stylized world created where the stories are unique and engaging, but ultimately don’t matter. They come second to this amazingly and unexpectedly appealingly dystopian universe.