Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #71
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: October 2, 2009
Sub-Genre: Road Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $102,391,540
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Producer: Gavin Polone
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Special Effects: Bob Shelley
Visual Effects: Trevor Adams
Cinematography: Michael Bonvillain
Score: David Sardy
Editing: Peter Amundson, Alan Baumgarten
Studio: Relativity Media, Pariah
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Woody Harrelson is Tallahassee
Jesse Eisenberg is Columbus
Emma Stone is Wichita
Abigail Breslin is Little Rock
Amber Heard is 406
Mike White is the Victim in the Bathroom
Bill Murray is Bill Murray
Suggested Audio Candy
 Metallica “For Whom The Bell Tolls”
 Chuck Mangoine “Feels So Good”
George A. Romero deserves a pat on the back if you ask me. Surrogate father to a legion of dead headed flesh-crawlers; this man is mighty protective of his offspring and with good reason I might add. He was there when they took their very first shuffling steps and has been present for every milestone since. Like any father, he tirelessly works to put food in their mouths and clothes on their backs. He is also fiercely particular about whom he entrusts with their safe-keeping as he doesn’t want anyone teaching them to run before they can walk. In short, George is pretty much your archetypal model father.
As any parent will attest, sleepless nights come with the territory, and it’s fair to say that he has endured a fair few of these over the past few years. The zombie phenomenon has progressively developed into a monstrosity of humongous stature and the undead have enjoyed new-found celebrity status as a result. Alas, during that period it has mutated almost beyond recognition. Harmful influence is something that any dedicated gatekeeper attempts to shield their young from as others don’t necessarily play the game by the same rule-set and it seems inevitable that, at some point, that you will have to relinquish control and allow them to follow their own distinctive and instinctive paths.
Therein lies the dilemma. You see, zombies are driven by one thing – blinding hunger. They don’t care where the next meal ticket is coming from and, as long as there is something served up, will be the first guests at any soirée. Their table manners are atrocious, although there is no cutlery to wash up as they prefer instead to get hands on. Plus their appetites are insatiable, tearing meat from its bones with butcher-like indifference, they are driven purely by the aroma of that next hot meal and always grateful for that second serving I might add.
Over the years Romero has had to sit by and observe his beloved brood become the laughing-stock of the horror industry. Nobody finds zombies scary anymore and, since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later came along with its red-eyed rage, his slothful creations have appeared little more than circus sideshows. There have, on odd occasion, been worthy treatments that don’t aim for the Ulnar nerve; however the most faithful recreations have come in the form of more comical works. Ironic really; he has always stated fervently that mankind is its own true enemy and it appears as though his estimations had some semblance of truth after all. The zombies are intent on global domination and all anyone wants to do is poke fun in their direction. It’s that flippancy that got us into this mess in the first place and the reason that we will eventually succumb to their sheer wealth of numbers.
Shaun of the Dead is universally well-regarded, Edgar Wright’s zombie apocalypse remained faithful to the template George had dotingly crafted, and is respectful in every key area. Yes, comedy plays a vital part but when it needs to subside it does as this is, after all, an outbreak on a far-reaching and comprehensive scale. Indeed walk-on roles in Land of the Dead proved an exceptional prize for Wright and his leading man Simon Pegg but, more critically, a nod of the head to the British pair for the upholding of his vast legacy.
However, he makes no qualms that his favored dish of recent times has been Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland. Romero could scarcely conceal his delight when this arrived hot on the heels of Wright’s cross-over success and Fleischer’s film is worthy of each and every word of his endorsement. Again it chooses to take a more humorous route although it does so with such respectfulness to the source material that it comes away with credibility more than intact. Indeed, it could easily be set within Romero’s cosmos; such is the authenticity of Fleischer’s bleak vision.
His movie focuses on a ragtag assemblage of survivors and their attempts to successfully cohabit an Earth which is no longer theirs to claim. They are realists; the world they knew has been shattered and each has a different coping mechanism for the increasingly fruitless conquest they have reluctantly undertaken. Led by possibly one of the most iconic characters in recent cinema history, Tallahassee (an utterly transcendent turn by Woody Harrelson), they have become an unlikely band of allies. In Tallahassee’s case, it is more anti-hero as he seems to relish the charge at hand, taunting his brain-dead prey with gusto and bravado before delivering the knock-out blow required to put a petite indentation in the population explosion. His priority is apparently himself and that bloody-mindedness has served him decidedly well to this point so why break the habit of a lifetime?
However, while his bloated ego takes up the lion’s share of our screen space, Tallahassee is not alone in his plight and three others have earned the right to walk in his shadow. Columbus (played by a marvelously awkward Jesse Eisenberg) is the perfect foil for Woody’s wayward wing nut. Bemused but resourceful, he has been forced into his current predicament when he should be at home masturbating over National Geographic like other kids his age.
Alongside him is Wichita (rising starlet Emma Stone). Quick-witted and with her own unique brand of bone-dry humor (which shot her to fame with Will Gluck’s glorious eighties love letter Easy A), this young vixen is made from robust stock. Imagining the testicles that have felt the polished tip of her leather boot and one becomes speedily aware that this is one chick that can fight her own battles. It isn’t long before the sexual chemistry is beginning to develop between Columbus and Wichita as he begins to grow into his skin, whilst she is presumably growing tired of her Rampant Rabbit.
Meanwhile, child actors are too often unnecessary distractions when dealing with a threat as all-encompassing as the one posed here but Abigail Breslin (or Little Rock to you zombie bitches) is no ordinary child actor. This little tear away learned to ply her trade from Alan Arkin and busts out moves to Rick James’s funk-jam Super Freak while her classmates are at home watching Sesame Street. As Little Rock, Breslin can banter with the best of them and has enough smarts of give Newt a run for her milk money.
The four play off one-another expertly under the sentient eye of Fleischer and their shared chemistry is an absolute joy to witness. That said, Harrelson rules the roost here and, make no qualms, he is the linchpin that bonds the group together. A loveable rogue whose heart is much larger than he is willing to divulge openly; his self-obsessed survivalist plan has been paramount to keeping him one step ahead of the game. The plan I speak of consists of various do’s and don’ts, a zombie checklist of sorts which, when adhered to, should keep one safe through the various pitfalls of being surplus. It has certainly served Tallahassee well as he has watched many come and go around him, whilst remaining in the game himself.
Our troupe of thrown together misfits make one rather momentous pit stop on their travels. The ace up Fleischer’s long sleeve comes courtesy of none other than Bill Murray playing none other than Bill Murray and, in the history of cameos, few are as magnanimous as this. In a perfectly timed change of pace, the four seek refuge in his swanky crib. Now, Murray barely has to move a muscle in his face to yield comedic results and deadpan comes as naturally to him as oxygen so he slots right in like a Russian doll, until his untimely departure that is. Ironically an ill-conceived prank is misconstrued by our survivors who promptly send Bill back to his box. We mourn his untimely passing, and any hopes of finding out what he whispered softly into Scarlett Johannson’s ear on that bustling Tokyo sidewalk are promptly and cruelly dashed. For now we will have to press on with the assumption that he said “don’t forget to get your Chlamydia test as I’ve been scratching my balls for weeks”.
By the closing act, our group have decided to kick back once more in their own little Wally World only, unlike the Griswolds, they are far from alone as these zombies have become rather adept at skipping turnstiles. It’s a stupendous conclusion and there can be few other settings more ideal than an abandoned fairground for the inevitable showdown and it makes the most of it. Of course, there’s a dash of sentiment as, by this point, we’re so invested in the characters that it only feels right to celebrate their achievement. However, it’s still undeniably bleak and Fleischer isn’t looking to leave us all with warm, fuzzy feelings in our tummies as the world is still well and truly FUBAR.
Zombieland really is the postcard of Romero’s post-apocalyptic paradise lost to sit closest to his masterful works. It fits into his universe hand-in-glove and, as the story has been told long ago, it can focus on providing an expansion of his template. It’s as if Fleischer is one of Romero’s minions; slaving tirelessly to reinforce his vision and, in a time where everybody appears to be taking a bite, it is refreshing to see somebody get it bang on the money. In short, while Romero has created a monster, in doing so, he has found himself an inestimable ally.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Ignore the certification as this does everything a decent zombie flick is supposed to and offers more than enough moments of grisly brilliance to have us raising your glasses. If you’re looking for ways to stop the undead in their tracks, Tallahassee’s your man and it is they who provide most of the splatter as he sends a fair few of them straight back to the topsoil and in absolutely no uncertain terms.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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