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Zombieland: Double Tap

DAY 18

Zombieland: Double Tap
Ruben Fleischer, 2019

Several years after the zombie apocalypse happens, a tight-knit group of survivors must start traveling again when one of their number goes missing.

When doing October horror-watching last year, I found myself pondering whether a film centring around a horror staple like vampires should automatically qualify as horror regardless of how much it was actually trying to be horrifying - Queen of the Damned is ostensibly about an ancient vampire queen plotting the apocalypse but it seems much more concerned with its protagonist's rockstar career. 2009's Zombieland obviously involved the flesh-eating ghouls of the title, but they took something of a backseat to a shambolic road movie about a quartet of misfits who learned to trust one another and have fun in the midst of a desolate wasteland that frequently seemed to forget about the presence of zombies entirely. As such, I definitely questioned its claim to being a legitimate horror (especially when it cracked the Top 100 Horrors list over so many more deserving titles) and did not find its other qualities altogether endearing. So why bother with Double Tap, the long-gestating sequel that only seems to promise more of the same? Because even I had to concede that there is some shred of potential to its core concept of bickering leads travelling cross-country and fending off the undead in a comedic fashion and maybe - just maybe - the creators would've done something to refine proceedings into something I could genuinely enjoy.

Unfortunately, Double Tap is barely any better at fulfilling that potential than the original. The opening montages hint at various changes like evolving zombies that resemble Left 4 Dead's "special infected" or emotionally volatile characters like Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock {Abigail Breslin) getting restless with the stagnant status quo set up by decidedly more inflexible characters like Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) or Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), to say nothing of actually introducing more live characters for the group to rub up against (the standout being Zoey Deutch's airheaded Madison whose improbable survival is outdone only by her capacity for ditzy one-liners). Beyond that, the concept of Zombieland becoming clever parody simply by inverting zombie tropes is taken to a whole new level with so much of the plot resting on the backs of non-violent characters like Madison or the hippie commune that practises a particularly strict no-guns-allowed policy (much to the chagrin of our main heroes, especially gun-loving Florida man Tallahassee). Most zombie films will take it for granted that everyone who survives a decade into the zombie apocalypse will be used to killing to survive so I guess it is something to see how out-and-out pacifists would survive the zombie apocalypse (enough that I sort of want to see a whole movie about how they'd even make that work) but here it just comes across as an extremely contrived means of justifying all of Tallahassee's tendencies that drove Little Rock away in the first place and makes me question where this film's priorities truly lie.

It sucks, then, because in certain respects Double Tap does represent a significant upgrade from its predecessor. Bringing in Park Chan-wook's regular cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon gives this the slightest but most necessary elevation over the thoroughly flat shooting this could have had (there are at least a couple of notable long takes, one of which is a not-too-shabby brawl), which is a shame when the action is cut to ribbons as it is during one scene involving a coach liner. The film also understands the need to acquiesce to certain trappings of the zombie genre by allowing characters to get infected and become zombies, actually giving some weight to the proceedings that even the super-powered "T-800" zombies (because calling them "Terminator" zombies isn't specific enough, it seems) don't quite seem to manage on their own. Even small touches like that aren't enough to override the film's haphazard approach to comedy where everything is commented upon (including the endless comments) and self-referential cameos go into overdrive at multiple points as if the film lacks faith in its original material (most notably in a sequence involving a pair of uncanny doppelgangers). And why shouldn't it? This is very much a piecemeal script that shows its age not just through its dated jokes (even allowing for the film's world-ended-in-2009 milieu) but also through its more obviously updated aspects. Even if you show up for some fun zombie carnage, you're liable to be left wanting - even one scene referred to as the "Zombie Kill of the Year" just made me wish I was watching 1992's Dead Alive instead. That's Double Tap all over, really - there's virtually nothing here you couldn't get from watching (or even playing) most other pieces of pre-existing zombie-centric media and its distinguishing features tend to be for the worse.