Contains mild spoilers.
What do you get if you add a socially inept obsessive compulsive nerd, a fearless kick-ass zombie killing cowboy and a pair of hustling sisters in a post apocalyptic zombie wasteland? A stylish delightfully acted zombie road trip full of witty dialogue, whoop-ass action and unlikely romance and friendship.
The film starts with unlikely hero Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg ), each of our companions is named after the destination they are intending to go to, alone narrating his compulsive rules for surviving from good cardio to always buckle-up. Columbus is in the process of travelling across from West coast to East coast America to visit a family he'd become increasingly distant from because really he doesn't know what else to do.
It's on this journey when he bumps into Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and they decide against each others better judgement to share part of the ride. From the off these unlikely travelling companions become the focus of the film. With a nod to all great comedy companions there is an instant interplay as they attempt at first just to tolerate then later to understand each other and in doing so realise at once how little they really know of each other and also how they're both more alike in being alone and lost than they'd care to admit.
The pair soon run into sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and 12 year old Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Surviving, as it happens before and after apocalypse day on their and their marks' lack of wits, Wichita and Little Rock outwit the boys leaving them behind with less stuff and on foot. Before long though Columbus and Tallahassee get a break in fortune and find themselves caught up with the girls, pleasing Columbus who has taken a bit of a shine to Wichita. Another confrontation later and despite none of them exactly getting off on the right foot the unlikely two end up an even more unlikely four, sharing a road trip East.
Pre-apocalypse none of the group would have had any time for one another, and the theme that friendship and even family can be found should people be willing to let their guard down even for a moment runs throughout the film. Columbus' rules might be over the top and far more obsessive than the others but each has formed their own guide for surviving whether they're conscious of it or not, and deviations from it scares them as much as zombies.
Whilst adhering for the most part to quite traditional looking zombies, director Ruben Fleischer set out to craft his own vision and not directly copy the Romero zombie formula per-se. First he based the outbreak on a what-if Mad Cow's disease spread to humans. His zombies are infected but still alive and I hear what you're saying, but as these infected keep going if damaged anywhere other than the brain, therefore in death, I'm happy they comply with zombie code. Also whilst wanting to respect traditional zombie canon he also wanted to infuse a bit more character and colour, and movement and life in to some his creations. This results in nail biting chase and action scenes especially in the films fairground finale, and some comical scenes with clowns, birthday party girls and a quite frankly surreal, hilarious and disturbing five minute cameo with Bill Murray as himself.
I also feel there's a small nod to the Capcom video game Dead Rising too, especially with the clown which appears in the game as a sub-boss, some of Tallahassee 's outfits and the sheer variety and fun in the ways in which the zombies are dispatched, which is a hallmark of the series.
Fleischer has produced a highly stylish and extremely creative zombie masterpiece that never takes itself too seriously. Despite capturing the apocalyptic desolation from sets, to cleverly keeping things tight and focused on the four survivors, he has also managed to produce a film of heart warming friendship and hope. The casting and acting are perfect and it's the subtle, clever interplay as each member of the band pokes and pushes at the armour of the others that guards start to come down, and the human qualities of trust and hope are allowed shine. Like many zombie films these moments of humanity contrasted against death and despair on an unimaginable scale take on extra power and meaning and Zombieland understands this perfectly. I'd recommend you come along for the ride, 8/10.