Zombieland: a zombie movie so enjoyable you almost want to join the apocalypse

Carpool through a zombie plague with a stellar cast including Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone in this 2009 genre romp

• Zombieland is streaming in Australia on Netflix. For more recommendations of what to stream in Australia, click here

Get our free news app; get our morning email briefing

Twelve years after its release, Zombieland (2009) remains one of the most enjoyable films in the flesh-eating genre. Its secret sauce? Brilliant casting – five Academy Award nominees – fast pacing, and the fact it just doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The premise of Zombieland is pretty simple: four jaded individuals reluctantly join forces and carpool across the country during a zombie apocalypse. The narrator, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a social recluse who has survived by following a list of conservative rules, including staying fit enough to outrun the zombies (Rule #1: Cardio) and shooting them twice to make sure they’re actually dead (Rule #2: Double Tap).

Director Ruben Fleischer made his directorial debut with this film, and takes great delight in covering each of these rules in gory detail: a homemaker escapes the neighbourhood zombie kids, only to go flying through her windscreen because she’s not buckled up (Rule #4: Seatbelts).

Columbus, with his irritable bowel syndrome and rolling suitcase (Rule #7: Travel Light), is the perfect foil for snakeskin jacket and cowboy hat wearing Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Tallahassee is in the butt-kicking business (and “business is GOOD”, Harrelson declares, two chainsaws in hand). After a tense standoff, Columbus hitches a ride.

The film looks set to fade into odd-couple mode, until the pair are outwitted by jaded 20-something Wichita (Emma Stone), and her pre-teen sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). The women quickly hustle the unsuspecting men, taking their guns and their truck (not once, but twice), on a quest to reach Pacific Playland, their childhood happy place.

Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin in Zombieland
The cast seem to be having fun, something missing from most of the exhaustingly gritty string of zombie productions that have emerged over the last two decades. Photograph: Allstar/Columbia Pictures

Part of what makes this film work is the chemistry between the cast. There’s a sense of ease and camaraderie, which is greatly helped by the film’s zippy editing, well-paced flashbacks, clever use of graphics and snappy dialogue (Little Rock’s explanation of Hannah Montana to an engrossed Tallahassee stands out).

Above all, they seem to be having fun, something missing from most of the exhaustingly gritty string of zombie productions that have emerged over the last two decades, from the 11 angst-riddled seasons of The Walking Dead to Hollywood hit World War Z and umpteenth Resident Evil film. When the cast trash and smash an Arizona gift store, their delight is so genuine, you kinda wish you could be in there with them. A standout moment is the appearance of actor Bill Murray, who shows up in a brilliantly executed cameo.

While Murray almost steals the show, it’s Harrelson as Tallahassee who ends up carrying the film. His character offers a handy roadmap in how to deal with the apocalypse: indulge in blind rage to vent your frustration, develop a dark sense of humour, and pursue your comfort food of choice (Twinkies) at all costs. He even inspires Columbus to add another rule to his list (#Rule 32: Enjoy the Little Things).

It doesn’t set out to be, but by the end this zombie movie is quite sweet. Sure, there’s blood, guts and gore, but the virtues of loyalty, trust and family are established without feeling cheesy or insincere. Almost as much of a triumph as surviving the apocalypse.

Shaney Hudson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Zomboat! A surprisingly clever and refreshingly upbeat zombie apocalypse
Wacky six-part genre romp is replete with British humour and some of the most relatable crisis behaviour to grace end times

Emily Tatti

23, Sep, 2020 @2:29 AM

Article image
Kicking and Screaming: Noah Baumbach’s slacker debut is a nostalgic bite of 90s reality
Director’s first feature is an ode to postgrad wheel-spinning and a warning about the dangers of too much solipsism

Nathan Dunne

13, Apr, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Thoroughbreds: a murderous upper-class gambit from Anya Taylor-Joy
Two school friends reconnect over their lack of empathy and hatch a deadly plan in this marvellous 2017 thriller

Adam Fleet

02, Jun, 2021 @1:21 AM

Article image
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore: not the indie drama you're expecting
Macon Blair’s directorial debut sends Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood abruptly thundering down a neo-noir path

Adam Fleet

03, Mar, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
The Long Kiss Goodnight: a masterful performance from Geena Davis obliterates nonsensical plot
Samuel L Jackson’s low-rent private eye pairs up with Davis’s schoolteacher when her former assassin identity starts violently reemerging in this 90s action thriller

Greta Parry

13, Jun, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
Chef and My Fridge: the South Korean cooking show that will get you to clean out your fridge
Four chefs have 15 minutes to create dishes using only what’s in the depths of a celebrity guest’s refrigerator. What’s not to like?

Marisa Wikramanayake

08, Jul, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Street Food: Netflix series is a televisual tonic amid postponed travel plans
Has your great getaway been put on hold indefinitely? Netflix’s adventures in roadside cuisine will zest up enforced downtime

Tess McLaughlan

14, May, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Riverdale: a campy, maximalist romp that leans into its own post-comic book absurdity
Series decouples from its source material it increasingly approaches self-aware greatness

Michael Sun

25, May, 2020 @12:09 AM

Article image
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: a magical blend of comedy, tragedy, earnestness and irony
What sets this musical comedy series apart from other romcom fare is its respectful but unsentimental handling of mental illness

Ruby Hamad

06, Apr, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Lovesick: a romantic comedy like High Fidelity but with STIs instead of feelings
Love triangles and banter play out against personal tragedy in this laugh-out-loud comedy full of genuine chemistry

Sinead Stubbins

11, Jun, 2020 @5:30 PM