ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch. Directed by Ruben Fleischer. 99 minutes. Rated MA15+ (Strong horror violence).
‘Zombieland’ was one of the surprise hits of 2009, unleashing screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s now-signature blend of self-aware humour upon unsuspecting audiences who were just beginning to warm to the zombie genre again (the record-breaking TV hit ‘The Walking Dead’ wouldn’t start for another year). Picking up where the previous film left off a decade ago, ‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is a double dose of silly, meta zombie fun elevated immeasurably by the calibre of its cast, who all gamely return to their characters with some extra golden baggage (most notably Emma Stone’s Best Actress Oscar for ‘La La Land’). It doesn’t bend genre rules as creatively or as gleefully as its predecessor once did, but it will more than satisfy those with a hankering for zombie entertainment that prioritises having brains over eating them.
The heroes of the first film are still living in their makeshift family unit, though they have upgraded their accommodation, converting the abandoned White House into their permanent address and stronghold against the zombie apocalypse raging in the U.S. outside. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, still impressively channeling a young Woody Allen) and Wichita (Emma Stone, excellent) have settled into an approximation of domestic bliss, while Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, still a hoot) is taking the responsibility of being Little Rock’s (Abigail Breslin) father figure a little too seriously. Feeling smothered by the men in their lives, Wichita and Little Rock take off unannounced. However, after hippie hitchhiker Berkley (Avan Jogia) tells them about a utopian, pacifist commune called Babylon, the allure of being around her fellow youths proves too much for Little Rock, who ditches Wichita to make for Babylon with Berkley.
Back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Columbus and Tallahassee cross paths with sweet but dim blonde Madison (Zoey Deutch), with whom Columbus rapidly rebounds from being dumped by Wichita. When Wichita reappears with news of Little Rock’s abscondment and a dangerous new breed of zombies, soon dubbed T-800s due to their near indestructability, Tallahassee insists that rescue Little Rock. Accompanied by Madison, their now-fractured family hits the road to reach Little Rock before a horde of hungry T-800s does. Along the way, they’ll have to deal with an Elvis-loving motelier (Rosario Dawson), a couple of doppelgangers (Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch, very fun), masses of the undead, and one another.
Although Reese and Wernick are now best known for writing the hyper-meta ‘Deadpool’ films, it was while writing their first screenplay together that the pair honed their knack for humorous self-reflexivity. ‘Zombieland’ was a breath of fresh air in the lifeless zombie genre; a throwaway gag saw the narrator award “Zombie Kill of the Week” to a New York nun, while Columbus’ rules for surviving the zombie infestation exposed decades of horror tropes, with the action on screen playfully interacting with the intertitles that appeared on screen whenever a rule was manifested. ‘Double Tap’, named for Columbus’ second rule instructing any would be survivor to confirm a suspected zombie kill with another bullet, continues this run of energetic self-awareness. Though plenty of the script’s jokes are simple sequels to those found in the first film – the narrator is now awarding “Zombie Kill of the Year”, while Bill Murray’s movie-stealing cameo gets a great post-credits callback – they’re still very funny, and a handful of new comedic directions pay off handsomely, like a running joke about Tallahassee’s supposed Native American heritage. With the talented returning cast members and a scene-stealing Zoey Deutch in its corner, ‘Double Tap’ is far funnier than it is terrifying. In fact, unless you consider the sight of blood or zombies (of which there are plenty) as inherently horrifying, then this sequel might not even qualify as a real horror movie.
However, that shouldn’t be of any real concern, because as a comedy, it leaves plenty of other “horror comedies” for dead. Director Ruben Fleischer, whose career was stuck in somewhat of a rut after the first ‘Zombieland’ until the surprise success of his 2018 comic book antihero movie, ‘Venom’, crafts ‘Double Tap’ as a high-energy rollercoaster ride. It comes in at a brisk 99 minutes, a brevity that is ultimately to its benefit, with plenty of gags packed into its runtime. Even though a zombified, post-apocalyptic U.S.A. may not be most people’s cup of tea, this fast and funny flick will leave viewers wanting more ‘Zombieland’, even if they have to wait another decade.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out October 17.