Ten years is a hefty period of time to wait for a sequel. In addition to whether or not audiences are still clamoring for a second telling, you have the interim variables of how humour can evolve, the potential changes in terms of social and political climates, and if any of the original cast are still considered on the same level of fame as they were when said film was made. For Zombieland: Double Tap, none of these particular variables that have indeed shaped in considerable measure since the 2009 broke out at the box office seem to be of any issue. Sure, Abigail Breslin hasn’t exactly forged a career a child Oscar nominee could have, and Emma Stone’s Oscar win lends itself to a degree of stature in the industry that is above a zombie comedy of this ilk, but part of the joy of Double Tap is that it does away with any pretension, proving that good writing and a willing ensemble are often enough to forge ahead.
A reunion of familiarity both on-screen and off – next to Breslin and Stone, cast members Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, director Ruben Fleischer (Venom), and writing duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool) are all back on board – Double Tap caters to fans of the original, and right from the get-go announces itself as something of a product of nostalgia as Tallahassee (Harrelson), Columbus (Eisenberg), Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin), so named for their home cities as a result of the first movie’s zombie apocalypse, litter the opening credits as the capable zombie killers they are in a sequence that suggests the blood and gore quota will be considerably raised.
The quartet have stayed by each other’s side in the decade that has since passed, but time has worn on their dynamic; Little Rock is nearing womanhood, and chomping at the bit to flee the nest, and not just to escape Tallahassee’s well-meaning but ill-advised ramblings; Wichita and Columbus have hit a dry spell, though he’s still just as love-struck as the day they first met, she’s anxious that their romance is dictated more on convenience than natural desire; and Tallahassee…well, he’s still good ol’ Tallahassee. Setting up camp in an abandoned White House (and, thankfully, because in this film’s reality President Trump was never a thing, we aren’t subjected to “fake news” humour), the bliss of safety is a temporary state of mind as Little Rock and Wichita flee for greener pastures (“Never get attached!” Wichita reminds herself), leaving a disaffected Tallahassee and a lovelorn Columbus to fend for themselves.
Travelling to a near-by mall to let off some hard-boiling steam, Columbus and Tallahassee unexpectedly find their void filled in the shape of a bubbly, blonde valley girl who has survived (somehow!) the outside attacks by seeking refuge in a department store freezer – Madison (Zoey Deutch). Glib and ditzy, with an infectious vocal fry, Deutch’s turn as the inexplicable ray of sunshine steals every scene she partakes in, and her addition to the crew adds a welcome dynamic, especially when Wichita returns and has to face her ex’s overt infatuation with a new interest. As with the first film, Double Tap transitions to a road movie when Little Rock takes off with a pacifist hippie (Avan Jogia’s Berkeley), leaving Wichita, Columbus, Tallahassee, and Madison to follow her trail to the gun-free commune known as Babylon she believes will truly be her home environment.
Whilst it’s practically expected that the road ahead for the quartet will be far from smooth sailing, Double Tap aims for a little variation on the impending zombie attacks by introducing a strand of the undead the original film didn’t have on file; the slow moving “homers”, the intelligent “Hawkings”, and the “T-800”, so named after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character due to their almost-invincible-like state. These new iterations allow the film to not entirely rest on presumption, as well as presenting the survivors with a genuine threat that shapes the final, blood-thirsty climax.
Though Double Tap doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, and there are large chunks of the film devoted to human drama that you’d be forgiven for forgetting this is a zombie-themed movie, it’s still just as entertaining as it needs to be for a slice of Halloween-season escapism. Fans may be disappointed that anything as deliriously clever as the Bill Murray cameo set-piece from the first film won’t be found here (though the final credit sequence wishes to replicate some of that magic, but fails rather miserably) but the core quartet all appear more than game to be back, and the endearing Deutch adds enough pep to make up for a safe narrative that practices chaos and comedy in equal measure.
Zombieland: Double Tap (MA15+) is screening in Australian theatres from October 17th 2019.