This may be the most colorful, vibrant zombie film I've ever seen. Director Ruben Fleischer packs it so full of humor, energy, and gusto that if it weren't about a zombie apocalypse, it would be downright joyous. But it's not really about the zombie apocalypse either. Yes, the world has been overrun with frenzied flesh-eaters, but the movie is really about the human need for companionship, even if it's someone with whom you don't really have a lot in common. In a world where 99% of the population has died, that will probably end up being the case.
Despite the movie's lively presentation, isolation pervades the movie. We never find out almost any of the characters' real names. They refer to each other by the places they want to go to, or the places they're from, or in one case, an apartment number. Trust is slow to build between them, not just because of what they've already been through, but because of who they are.
The main character, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), was a loner even before the outbreak occurred. Since then, he's developed a set of rules for staying alive, the first four of which are
Cardio (you spend a lot of time running)
Double tap (once a zombie's down, always put one in the head, just to be sure)
Beware of bathrooms (an easy way to get surprised or trapped)
Buckle your seat belt (you never know when your car might crash, either intentionally or not)
Columbus is trying to make it back to his namesake city to see if his parents are still alive. He's doing pretty well on his own, because that's how he normally operates. When he first meets someone else alive, he can't keep his hands from shaking in terror as he holds his gun. Zombies he can handle, more or less. He doesn't have any rules for dealing with normal people.
That first person he meets is Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson in an excellent performance). They couldn't be less alike. Tallahassee has nowhere in particular to go, but there is one thing he wants more than anything else: to eat one last Twinkie before they're all gone forever. He's also really good at killing zombies, doing it with a glee that brings the audience right along with him. On their travels they run into a pair of sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), and after some initial road bumps, they end up banding together.
What really got this movie out of the pack, though, was the amazing cinematography. I'm not normally a fan of the excessive use of slo-mo, but in this movie the slo-mo scenes were such explosions of color, dynamism, and creativity that I could have very happily watched much more of them. The opening credits were a series of slo-mo shots, and I felt like I could have watched 10 more minutes of scenes like that right then. The non-slo-mo was just as well done.
Lest I make this sound like a Disney film, I should reassure zombie fans at this point that there is no shortage of mayhem and gore. The movie doesn't linger on gruesome deaths, though, like so many zombie films do, it just hits the right spot and then moves on, taking us along with it.
Given the good press this movie has been getting, telling my readers to see it is probably redundant, but if you're a zombie fan and haven't seen it, waste no more time, and get thee to a multiplex. You'll leave the theater with a smile on your face.