Brains…brains…brains!

Harry Jennings 15 October 2009

Film Review: Zombieland (3 Stars)

If you’ve read this far, don’t stop. The three measly stars at the top of this review should – without doubt – be four stars. It’s not the fault of The Cambridge Student . No, it is, sadly, the fault of Zombieland which was, but for the ending, one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had at the cinema this year.

The reason that this review lacks the fourth star is the film’s finale which, for a zombie film, is irritatingly upbeat. If you’re a fan of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (and if you’re still reading, you should be), then there won’t be anything approaching the sapping, depressing final shot of that film. But enough of that.

There is a huge amount to recommend Zombieland.  This is Hollywood in top gear. It’s fast (80 minutes is perhaps the perfect length for a feature) and it’s funny. It never lets down, it never stops, and every scene is – though to some extent a Robert McKee masterclass – a perfectly structured ballet of set ups, payoffs, reversals and visual gags. It comes as no surprise that William Goldman did some uncredited rewrites.

The film was assembled by a team of cogs from the L.A. machine, none of whose previous work is of real note.

However, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, along with appropriately named director Ruben Fleischer have really knocked the horror-comedy subgenre on the head.

Zombieland is, of course, no Shaun of the Dead, and it’s certainly no American Werewolf in London, but then what is? It ticks all the right boxes, with the horror coming from the seriously presented undead, and the comedy from the hapless living.

The gore is good and bloody, though the numbers of the living dead are toned down. As such, they never feel like the huge, unstoppable and unending presence that Romero or Edgar Wright presented.

They can, of course, run (thank you, Zack Snyder, for killing off the most interesting thing about the zombie massive). However, perhaps the filmmakers can be forgiven for this. The day that Hollywood decides to return to the shuffling corpses of yore is the day that the dead rise from… well.

More praise? Yes, actually. The script is a beautifully layered guide to popular culture of the current generation. Everything from Facebook Statuses to Babe gets in there, and honestly, not a single reference feels shoehorned or out of place.

It all just gels. There’s so much more to squeeze in before the end: the performances are all fine – Woody Harrelson is obviously having the time of his life – and the special effects are great. There is also – and it cannot be spoiled – possibly the greatest celebrity cameo in recent memory.

Still. What about that fourth star? Well, there was perhaps just a little too much on the side of light heartedness.

Despite above praise the film really does not get away with its final moments and, as they say, the best ending can save the worst film.

Sadly, the reverse is also true. If you can leave before the last minute and a half, and work out a suitably horrific death for your least favourite character, do so. But don’t let this down ending stop you from seeing Zombieland tonight. Just remember, you can’t have the jokes without the crushing depression that comes after.

Zombieland is now showing at Vue Cinemas.

Harry Jennings