It’s as simple as this: Zombieland is a place where you get sick one day and you’re sucking brains the next. A place where a debilitating virus has transformed most of humanity into a mass of shambling undead.
There are a few hapless survivors who took the government’s advice and washed their hands regularly. But they’re outnumbered a thousand to one. Not good odds, really.
One of those is a friendless young loner who has not only outlived the disaster, but who’s also set up a series of rigidly held rules to help him avoid becoming a cerebral appetizer. Rule No. 1: Do consistent cardio workouts. Rule No. 4: Wear a seat belt at all times. Combined, these little dictums are literal lifesavers.
But when an almost deadly encounter leaves the timid recluse out in the cold without a vehicle, it looks as if all the rules in the world won’t help him. Luckily, a cowboy road warrior named Tallahassee drives up right about then. This zombie destroyer has two simple rules himself: Avoid real names (and thus any emotional attachment). And puree every zombie you encounter.
Tallahassee dubs his new young friend Columbus, and the two take to the road. Soon they’re joined by a pair of young sisters, Wichita and Little Rock.
From there it’s California or bust.
The story’s four main characters have all had their share of difficulties in past relationships. But in the midst of this shared horror, they learn to trust one another and form what amounts to a family bond. The movie ends with the statement, "We had hope. We had each other."
Columbus faces down a particularly powerful fear, heroically putting his life on the line to rescue Wichita and her sister. All four friends face down death in their efforts to save one another.
Wichita does everything she can to protect her 12-year-old sister, Little Rock. Referring to her plight, Columbus says, "It’s tough growing up in zombieland." Wichita retorts, "It’s tough growing up."
Columbus eventually learns that Tallahassee’s pain and reckless behavior stem from the fact that zombies killed his son, which perhaps helps explain why Tallahassee later takes on a fatherly role with Little Rock.
A large-busted zombie woman is shown running and bouncing in slow motion. She’s wearing nothing but a g-string and pasties. Wichita wears a form-fitting T-shirt that exposes her cleavage. Columbus and Tallahassee are both shown shirtless at different times.
Wichita and Columbus embrace and kiss briefly. Columbus welcomes a panicked neighbor into his apartment. She kisses him on the cheek and lays her head on his chest. The young man says it might be his chance to lose his virginity … but she turns into a zombie and attacks him instead.
Tallahassee is a veritable repository of colloquialisms when it comes to sexual activity. At one point he sacrilegiously refers to sex as going "heels to Jesus."
Zombieland is a full-fledged, R-rated zombie movie. So this is where the rubber hits the road—along with blood, brains, entrails and every other oozy thing you can imagine. In fact, one of the director’s hardest tasks must have been to come up with enough unique ways to film goopy carnage to fill 80 minutes. Unfortunately, he gave it the old college try … to nasty results.
Teeth plunge into victims’ flesh and tear free sizable mouthfuls—while drooling out buckets of coal-black bile. Body parts litter the landscape, hanging from steering wheels and doorknobs. Zombies break bones and rip tendons and sinews as they kill and eat. One scene shows a female undead kneeling in the road, eating the remains of an eviscerated victim.
But zombie feeding frenzies aren’t the only butchery on display. An ample chunk of the flesh-rending action is perpetrated on the undead baddies. Tallahassee crushes zombie faces with everything from baseball bats to a banjo. Bloody, bashing contact is shown in realistic detail. A swarm of grade school-aged child zombies bounce off a careening van, and several get dragged down the street. We see a nun drop a piano on a pursuing zombie.
In one intense scene Columbus fends off his zombie female neighbor. She chases him, teeth snapping, mouth drooling thick ichor. He batters her with kitchen utensils, breaks her ankle, smothers her with a shower curtain and finally snaps her neck by thumping her with a porcelain toilet cover.
A wide variety of firearms—from shotguns to machine guns—splash eyeballs and intestines everywhere. In a scene at an amusement park, all four of the movie’s heroes blast away. Zombies splat to the ground from 50 feet in the air, are smashed and sent flying by twirling rides and are viciously shredded by large-caliber automatic fire.
When asked how she learned to handle a firearm, Little Rock reports that it was from all her video game play.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A few times, Tallahassee drinks from a bottle of hard liquor. He hands a glassful to Columbus, but the younger man throws it away. Later though, Columbus and Wichita share a bottle of wine, taking deep swigs. Tallahassee finds a hat with empty beer cans attached to it that Little Rock ends up wearing later.
In one quick scene, the adults are shown smoking marijuana from a communal bong—with Little Rock in the room.
If you walk into a movie called Zombieland, there shouldn’t be much mystery about what’s about to plop onto your cinematic plate. The only question, really, is one of degrees—as in, how rancid does it get?
But before I delve into a final summary of the gory proceedings at hand, I’ll have pity on your gag reflex and tell you about the film’s few appealing elements first.
If you look beneath the rotting-flesh exterior you find four central characters who constitute a likeable, if particularly raw, family of post-apocalyptic misfits. They’re well portrayed and often funny. After all, this is a flick that’s supposed to tickle your funny bone while it gnaws on some poor dead guy’s leg bone. The story ultimately encourages us to find hope in—and to be heroic for—the people around us.
Now back to that degrees of badness part.
Zombieland unleashes a blender’s-eye-view of gross-out splatters, mouthfuls of flayed flesh and a woman launched face-first through her windshield. Then the camera zooms in on a large-breasted zombie stripper who’s wearing little more than pasties and gore. And a gaggle of zombified children get dragged behind a speeding van shortly thereafter.
And that’s just the first five minutes.
It’s as if the moviemakers are screaming at us not to bother looking for the veiled subtexts, allegories or sociopolitical messages that are sometimes associated with this genre.
No, this is pure—or, I should say, impure—in your face, blood and guts mingled with f-words and gruesome, tongue-in-bullet-blasted-cheek jokes designed to keep moviegoers sniggering amidst the carnage.
It’s as simple as that.