365 Days of the Dead Revisited: Zombieland

Here’s a tip for you budding filmmakers out there: if you want me to fall instantly in love with your movie, open it with a splattery slow-motion death montage set to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Director Ruben Fleischer does just that with ZOMBIELAND, which means his movie became my favorite genre outing this year before the Director of Photography’s title card appeared. This is a smart, fun, and thoroughly enjoyable ride.

ZOMBIELAND accomplishes what so many fan-oriented undead flicks have attempted to do and failed: it embraces tropes of the subgenre without being dictated by them, it echoes modern classics like 28 DAYS LATER and Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD without resorting to parody, and it never, ever lowers itself by naming any of its characters Barbara, or Peter, or Shaun. Thank you, Zombie Jesus.

Remarkably, the undead play a somewhat limited capacity in the film, acting more as a catalyst for an apocalyptic coming-of-age story. I usually hate when that happens–the film could just as easily be called VAMPIRELAND or WEREWOLFWORLD and remain basically the same– but Fleischer, along with screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, do a commendable job with the interactions with their human characters that’s easy to forgive; they don’t really bring anything new to the table, but the clever gags and brisk direction maintain such a gleeful momentum that the relatively routine plot feels much more inventive and unique.

The cast is uniformly solid, but the real spotlight is one the scenery-gorging Woody Harrelson (in easily his most engaging role since THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT), who will no doubt join Bruce Campbell’s Ash as the genre’s most quotable, imitiable zombie-killer–and rightfully so. With the exception of the film’s not-so-secret secret cameo–whose subplot could’ve made an entertaining flick in its own right–he practically carries the movie on his shoulders.

ZOMBIELAND joins Grace Lee’s AMERICAN ZOMBIE as the decade’s undead high-water mark. It’s the kind of rare experience that not only thrills horror fans, but also holds plenty of crossover potential for those who don’t normally dig fright films. (A sequel is inevitable, which I actually wouldn’t mind.) Catch it this weekend if you can.


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