No more Chris Moyles, no more Facebook status updates, no more bosses, landlords or bank managers, and no more awkward conversations with people you don’t like. Because they’re dead. Everybody else is dead. Unless you’re really unlucky, and they’re undead and just about to eat your face off.
Is this the appeal of the end of the world? Is this why filmmakers and cinema audiences, like restless children constantly asking ‘are we there yet?’, just can’t wait for the rustic charm of a post-apocalyptic wilderness? Zombieland makes the whole experience look like one long hoot, where a life playing violent videogames is perfect preparation for survival, and even the most unlucky in love have a chance to get to ‘second base’ should they bump into another living human being. In one of the most enjoyable opening credit sequences you could hope to see, the film’s nerdy protagonist talks us through the simple rules that kept him alive when all around him lost their heads (and arms and legs), as we watch various regular-folks panicking and being ripped to shreds in fountains of cgi blood and glorious slow-motion. Zombieland’s initial rush of energy soon wears off though, leaving us with an enjoyable enough horror comedy (horredy?) but when the humour blows itself out two-thirds of the way though with an amusing but over-milked cameo, we’re left with a concluding zombie-theme-park set-piece which gets tired very quickly, and a sickeningly trite final sentiment. Like an Evil Dead-lite for the Twilight generation, Buffy with zombies, or Beverly Hills 9021oh-my-God-it’s-eating-my-face-off, Zombieland is good fun but too slick and child-friendly to have any real bite.
If you’re still hungry for more end of the world shenanigans, The Road offers a welcome antidote to Zombieland’s sugary after-taste. Unlike most of the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, humans in The Road aren’t turned into flesh-eating monsters by mad-cow disease, powerful viruses created in labs, or radiation from passing meteorites. The most striking and chilling aspect is that the monster was always lurking inside humanity, and all it took was hunger and fear to bring it to the surface. It is set ten years on from an unspecified environmental catastrophe which brought a sudden end to civilisation, plant life, and 99% of humans and animals. Everything has been stripped to the bone, devoured or burnt, and buried in dust and ash, leaving a thin residue of survivors divided into those trying to cling to their civilised behaviour (the good guys) and packs of cannibals (the bad guys). The good guys are an unnamed father and son (names no longer have any purpose in this grave new world), and in his opening narration, the father coldly declares, “Each day is greyer than the day before and growing colder, as the world slowly dies”. The matter-of-fact delivery of the line hits like a sledgehammer and sets the scene for possibly the bleakest movie ever to come out of Hollywood, where civilisation is a surreal and painful memory, and the living envy the dead. With its episodic art-cinema feel and overwhelming sense of sorrow and loss, The Road is the flipside of Zombieland, as the father and the son drift slowly across a ravaged, decaying America like ghosts. It struggles to maintain the constant level of tension that made Cormac McCarthy’s source material so riveting, but it’s a commendable attempt and an all too believable warning from the future.