‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is at Its Best When It Fully Embraces Its Possible Irrelevance

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CREDIT: Sony/Columbia Pictures

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, Avan Jogia

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for All the Fluids That Spew Out in the Zombie Apocalypse

Release Date: October 18, 2019

There’s a running gag throughout Zombieland: Double Tap in which Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) attempts to secure the title of “Zombie Kill of the Year.” He can never seem to quite pull it off, as his companion Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is on hand to helpfully inform us of some other recent dispatch of the undead that was just a little more impressive. This begs the question, in a post-apocalyptic world in which all mass communication has been decimated, how is word about these kills spreading so quickly and seamlessly? By Columbus providing this info via voiceover narration, there is an implication, perhaps unintentional, that he is somehow omniscient. Or maybe the conceit is that he is telling us this story years later, although that does not appear to be the case, what with the sense of immediacy to his dictation.

This is not the most worrisome concern to have, but it does stand in contrast to the original Zombieland, in which everything clicked into place just so, both comedically and logically. Double Tap has several elements like this that feel important but ultimately aren’t terribly so. The jokes are given greater emphasis, but even more essential is an investigation into a nagging sense of malaise. How do you go on living in a world overrun by zombies when killing zombies has become second nature? In addressing this question, the ten years that have passed since the first Zombieland are actually an advantage.

While people do die and new zombies are turned in this world, we are never worried that the makeshift family of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) will fall victim to the carnage. And they seem to know it. They’re living it up in the White House, treating every day like it’s Christmas, but that sense of security is only engendering mid-life, or quarter-life, crises. Columbus and Wichita especially are struggling with the realization that they have already accomplished all they need to in life by their thirties. I wish that the script had dug into these neuroses a little more deeply, but this movie works as well as it does because this malaise is the foundational conflict.

Now, to fully enjoy Double Tap, you’ll have to have a pretty big appetite for the same self-aware self-deprecating jokes being told over and over and a full embrace of certain stereotypes that have already been thoroughly deconstructed. But there’s a lot more melancholy than you might expect from a past-it-sell-by-date carnage-filled zom-com. If that’s not quite a Zombie Endorsement of the Year, it’s at least enough to assure us that our undead imaginations haven’t been fully depleted yet.

Zombieland: Double Tap is Recommended If You Like: Staring into the void, while repeating your favorite jokes over and over again

Grade: 3 out of 5 Rules

Movie Review: ‘The Dead Don’t Die,’ And Neither Does the Droll Energy in Jim Jarmusch’s Zombie Goof-Off

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CREDIT: Abbot Genser/Focus Features

Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, Austin Butler, Eszter Balint, Luka Sabbat, Larry Fessenden

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Ironic, But Visceral Zombie Violence

Release Date: June 14, 2019 (Limited)

Sometime around 2010, it was determined that it was every filmmaker’s God-given right to make their very own zombie movie. In the case of Jim Jarmusch, he was divinely matched with The Dead Don’t Die, a droll, occasionally fourth wall-breaking portrait of ravaged-by-the-undead small town life patrolled by Police Officers Bill Murray and Adam Driver. In a post-Shaun of the Dead world, The Dead Don’t Die is far from necessary, but it is sufficiently diverting. It adds an environmental wrinkle to the zombie mythos, as fracking is implied to be the culprit behind the upending of nature. If Jarmusch is crying out for us to protect the Earth, that warning is perhaps a little too late, considering how disastrous climate change has already become. But that’s no big deal (for the movie, that is – the planet is screwed), as he seems to have more goofball ideas on his mind anyway.

The zombie blood and guts are sufficiently hardcore, with the bodily fluids as wet and unleashed as the dialogue is dry and bottled-up. But the main attraction are not the ghouls so much as the characters and their unique ways of being human and/or inhuman. That is to say, while Tilda Swinton has badass sword skills as the town’s new undertaker, it’s more amusing that she gets to lean into a hardcore Scottish persona. This is the type of movie in which Selena Gomez tells Caleb Landry Jones, “Your film knowledge is impressive,” after he mentions some pretty basic info about George Romero, and then Larry Fessenden refers to Gomez and her friends who are passing through town as “hipsters from the city” and “hipsters with their irony” (the odds seem to be that they’re from Cleveland). If that sounds hilarious to you, you know who you are, and you can expect to mostly be satisfied, though you may (or may not) have issues with the shaggy, shambling plot structure.

The Dead Don’t Die is Recommended If You Like: Remaining at an ironic remove, but not being too-cool-for-school about it

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Diner Coffee Pots

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ Fulfills Our Society’s Need for a Decent Zombie Musical

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CREDIT: Gerardo Jaconelli/Orion Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye

Director: John McPhail

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: R for Typical Zombie Gore and a Disturbingly Sniveling Principal

Release Date: November 30, 2018 (Limited)

How has it taken us this long to have a major zombie movie musical? Some quick research proves that there actually are previous examples of this genre mashup, as the Disney Channel Original Zombies debuted earlier this year, and Z: A Zombie Musical, about three nuns attacked by a zombie dog, apparently also exists. But as far as I can tell, Anna and the Apocalypse is the first major theatrical release in which fending off the undead is interspersed with characters belting out original tunes. And in light of the genre’s popularity and how it has already allowed comedy and romance to seep through in the likes of Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies, that just seems fundamentally incorrect. But luckily for Anna and the Apocalypse, zombie ubiquity means that setting the living dead loose on a sleepy little song-happy British town around Christmas makes more or less perfect sense.

What Anna and the Apocalypse has most in its favor is a winning lead performance from Ella Hunt as Anna, who is trying to survive the holidays as she deals with the craziness at her high school, some boy troubles, and a falling out with her dad. What it lacks is the thematic heft that has uplifted so many zombie films above their slash-and-splatter foundations. There might be an attempt at that sort of message, perhaps regarding how the pain of how friendships and familial relationships evolve as you become a young adult are akin to the visceral nature of chopping up zombie brains. But it comes across as a clash of two different stories bumping against each other. They work well enough on their own, but they don’t really deepen each other, although nor do they undercut each other.

At least the songs are satisfactorily rousing, though they somewhat surprisingly tend more towards the “life is changing so fast” variety rather than the “world is going to hell” style. This particular musical agnostic found them decently toe-tapping and not too overwhelming. The champ of the soundtrack, for my money, is the saucy “Santa Baby”-esque talent show number that includes lyrics like “My chimney needs a good unblocking.” If you’re okay with someone getting holiday-based innuendo in your zombie movie, you should be pleased.

Anna and the Apocalypse is Recommended If You Like: Warm Bodies, High school talent shows with actual talent, A cozy British sensibility

Grade: 3 out of 5 EvacSelfies