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Entries in Zombieland [2009] (1)


Zombieland (2009)

A Zombie Movie that Never Aims for the Head

Sometimes you just know.

I first saw the Zombieland trailer in front of District 9. It was loud, frenetically edited and plagued by a cute voiceover and Hot Teen Actors. I knew instantly that someone had tried to Americanize Shaun of the Dead without any understanding as to what made it great. The audience reaction was very enthusiastic, and I wondered what everyone else saw that I could not.

Fast forward a couple months to this weekend. The pre-opening buzz on this film is breathtaking. It’s being hailed as a fun, comedic masterpiece, on par with or better than Shaun of the Dead. Every friend who’s seen Zombieland says it’s great, so I ignore my instincts and head into the movie prepared to be won over. Nearly two hours later, I left the theatre and drafted a long, heartfelt apology to my instincts:

Dear Instincts,

You were right. I was wrong. Zombieland sucks. You did all you could to lead me away from this painfully dull movie, even urging me to leave the theatre during the garish, logically flawed opening title sequence. You said, “Come on, man, you can see that these idiots don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.” But I stayed.

You asked me, “Aren’t you tired of that hip, new device where expository text is inserted into scenes as part of the physical landscape? It was only done well in Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains and on the TV show Fringe (and let’s not forget Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Look how much they’re using it here! The characters are interacting with these rules of survival that they can’t see, and they pop up over and over and over (and over) again so that we never forget how important they are! Oooh, clever!”

Though I didn’t appreciate the bitter sarcasm, I couldn’t disagree with your logic.

You said, “Jesus fucking Christ! Jesse Eisenberg again? Remember how much you hated him in Adventureland, playing the sexless, warmed-over Michael Cera role? Look! He’s doing the same shit here! He’s even wearing one of those god awful emo-boy hoodies. The only thing worse than Michael Cera is someone posing as Michael Cera and failing!”

Again, you were so, so right. But I stayed.

“Hey,” I said, “Woody Harrelson’s in it. We love Woody!”

“Yeah,” you fired back, “We love Woody when he’s given something to do other than play a poorly written comic book character. ‘Look at me, ah’m a tuff guy with a shitload o’ guns! Hey, kid, let’s team up and fight the fast moving undead! Sure, we can get from Texas to California in a Hummer without having to stop a billion times for gas, why not? Much like 9/11, everything changes after a zombie apocalypse, even fuel efficiency!’”

It was a slap in the face, Instincts, but you had truth on your side.

“But, Instincts,” I stammered back, “This is a fun zombie movie, like Shaun of the Dead. We love Shaun of the Dead.” To which you replied:

“This is as close to Shaun of the Dead as Jaws: The Revenge is to Jaws. Aren’t you bothered by the monstrous plotholes?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, for instance: when Woody, Jesse, and the con-artist sisters they’ve picked up finally make it to California, don’t you find it odd that they hole up in the one neighborhood that isn’t overrun by zombies?”

“Come on, man, that’s nitpicking.”

“Okay, what about the amusement park?”

“What about it?”

“Two of the characters’ goals is to make it to a Disney-style amusement park, which they’ve heard is a zombie-free zone.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“The last twenty minutes of the movie takes place in said amusement park because these chicks are actually dumb enough to believe that a sprawling carnival would be a safe haven! No one is that goddamned clueless! No one! And if the audience is forgiving enough to suspend disbelief and lend that idea plausibility, they must draw the line at giving a shit about what happens to those characters.”

“Instincts, you make it sound like this movie was written by morons.”

“By them and for them.”

“Isn’t that a bit harsh?”

“Let me ask you this: how much do you hate Twitter?”

“Oh, lots, Instincts! You know this.”

“So why didn’t you get up and leave in the middle of Jesse Eisenberg’s five-hundredth bit of voiceover masturbation? Seriously, narration is supposed to give the audience insight into a film’s goings-on, not hit them over the head with a description of what they’re watching. Paraphrased example:

‘It was at that moment I realized I had to fight off the evil zombie clown to save the girl I love. Even though I have a fear of clowns, this was my defining moment as a person, so I manned-up and saved the day, thus violating—in a startling twist—rule number seventeen (which, remember, is ‘Don’t be a Hero; if you can’t remember, try reading the giant text blocks hovering next to my douche-y, pensive face).’”

“Come on, Instincts, that was way more than 140 characters.”

“I’m referring to that horrifying modern idea that every thought has to be expressed!” You sighed heavily then, Instincts, and took a long drag off a cigarette—weird ‘cause neither of us smokes. Then you grumbled, “I’m done with you,” and disappeared.

I really hope you’ll forgive me and come back some day. I miss your voice telling me to avoid seeing zombie movies that don’t know how to be scary. Without you, I’ll fall into more Zombielands, films that lack depth, artistry or even sitcom-level humor from this century.

I may even come to believe that it’s okay for an action comedy to use almost every genre cliché while also being completely boring and airless for the last 45 minutes. I fear that eventually I’ll lose respect for my own mind and stop demanding better entertainment.

I’ll be like everyone else.

Desperately Yours,


It’s been 33 hours since my instincts stopped talking to me. I miss the reasoned, experienced guidance, especially in light of the new voice that has popped into the back of my head.

 It laughs way too loudly at things I never would have found funny before; its grammar is terrible, and I swear I can actually hear it drooling whenever a cop car goes by. The new voice woke me up this morning and, apropos of nothing, said, “Hey, that new 2012 trailer looks fuckin’ awesome!”