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Action Alphabet: 'Zombieland'

When the zombie subgenre first gained traction, it was, like any other kind of horror movie monster, used primarily as an expression of some kind of social unrest or an allegory of some important event i.e. the dangers of consumerism or civil rights struggles. But as of late, the kinds of filmmakers who make horror movies use the genre as an opportunity to make light of those same issues instead of wallowing in them. Watching Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 film Zombieland, you would be hard-pressed to find any sort of subliminal commentary except the riffs on those older zombie movies and how seriously they took their metaphors.

Photos from 'Zombieland'
Photos from 'Zombieland'
Jesse Eisenberg (l) in 'Zombieland'

After one bad burger has lead to the zombie apocalypse, we meet an unassuming twentysomething, who we only know by the name of his hometown Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), who is just a guy trying to make his way alive through the United States of Zombieland. While attempting to get home to his family across the desolated country, Columbus meets up with the snakeskin-clad, trigger-happy redneck Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and the two decide to join forces on their travels. While searching an abandoned supermarket, they come across Wichita (Emma Stone) and her younger sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who seem in need of help until they steal Columbus and Tallahassee’s guns and car. Later, the guys catch up with the ladies and they all eventually decide to travel to L.A. together so young Little Rock can once again see her favorite amusement part Pacific Playland – only the have doesn’t turn out to be as safe as they hoped it would be…

Before it was made into a movie Zombieland was supposed to be a TV show, so it would be easy to make an excuse for the looseness of its storytelling structure, but there’s no need to compensate. As it happens, the tired and usually bland roadtrip premise works exceedingly well for the action-horror-comedy; it leaves the field wide open for lots of fun action moments, not to mention a great breadth of character development – Eisenberg and Harrelson are magical as the survivor buddy odd couple. And I hold a special place I my heart for Harrelson’s Tallahassee – it’s a rare occasion indeed that a hillbilly in a horror movie is actually a good guy, especially since Romero has been building the zombie apocalypse yokel as a baddie archetype since Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Action-comedies have always had less of an edge than action movies that happen to be funny, but with zombies as the wonder ingredient, Zombieland never falters in its pacing; each moment builds to the ultimate shootout/showdown in the middle of a brightly-lit theme park. This movie is so action-packed and fun at the same time, watching it is one of the few instances when I wouldn’t mind so much being stuck in a world overrun by the undead.