Last week I saw Ruben Fleischer’s film “Uncharted”, a film which was a disappointment to me. I remember when the credits started that no one film can define a director. In this case, as proof of this, I remembered that Fleischer directed a film in the zombie genre that had excellent writing, characters and understood how the genre can connect to pandemics. This film is: “Zombieland.”
Released in 2009, “Zombieland” is directed by Fleischer and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The film features Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin in the lead roles.
Eisenberg plays nerdy, uptight and kind Columbus, a college student trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse. Columbus is on his own, making rules to survive the zombie apocalypse and trying to make his way to find his parents, until he meets Harrelson’s Tallahassee and Wichita and Little Rock (Stone and Breslin, respectively). The film then follows the group as they travel together through the apocalypse and become like a family to each other.
The best part of “Zombieland” is its connections to the crisis we are going through in the real world right now. The zombie genre has a particular connection to the pandemic in that the characters are fighting to stay alive and not contract a virus. “Zombieland” is no exception to the rule of the zombie genre. The experience these characters go through is very similar to the experience of the pandemic. A great example is that Columbus, all the way through the film, makes rules for surviving the zombie outbreak, things like limbering up, avoiding bathrooms, and, of course, double tap (make sure a zombie is dead). These might not be the same rules to surviving COVID-19, but the system Columbus has is similar to the protocols we have in place to keep us safe.
Another connection this film has to the pandemic is its themes of connections and family. Columbus makes it known that before the zombie outbreak, he was not a people person. However, he states that as he continued to live in the world of zombies, he realized how much he wanted to have people back in his life. I think many in COVID-19 times realized the same thing Columbus did, that we often take how important people are for granted. In a pandemic, it is important to have someone out there to lift you up in the same way you would lift them during this hard time. That’s why all of these characters meeting each other was important because they had all been on their own up until this point and through each other found the need for connection with others again. We should all follow these characters’ example and always hang onto strong connections with people when we find them. If we do not hang onto the connections we have then, as the film reminds us, we become lonely and isolated like the zombies of the film.
Often one of the difficulties for horror comedies is the ability to be funny while still being scary. Luckily, “Zombieland” delivers both scares and laughs. When a zombie appears in this movie it’s not just a person in makeup. The zombies are snarling, growling and lunging and they are almost always gurgling at the mouth. The film’s zombie design allows it to be both taken seriously as a zombie movie and be considered a fun comedy. Often comedy is mixed in with scares in sequences. For example, the opening features a montage of multiple zombie incidents. The incidents range from zombie brides biting grooms at weddings to little zombie kids attacking a neighborhood mom in her van. It is always welcome to have a laugh and a scare in a film.
The comedy in the film is brilliant. It has a great range from visual humor to verbal humor to character-based humor. Many recall Bill Murray’s classic jokes in this movie. For example, Wachita hits him with a golf club (referencing Bill Murray’s film “Caddyshack”). Verbal humor appears in many places where the group is interacting with one another. Character-based humor is evident in every place in the film. A strong example is Columbus being more afraid of clowns than zombies and Tallahassee’s quest for Twinkies.
“Zombieland” is one of the great horror-comedies! The film expertly blends scares and laughs and utilizes a variety of types of humor. However, best of all, the film manages to still be relevant today through it’s characters’ experience of surviving a virus and the themes of family. All of this and great performances from the whole cast make this zombie film worthy of biting onto for a viewing!
Jake Zamansky can be contacted at