Stylistic Analysis of Zombieland
“Zombieland” is a film where a lot of stylistic choices were made. Especially the opening scene says a lot about the film and the characters. Mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing and sound shape the film’s effect on the viewer.
The film begins in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The first shot is unbalanced to prime our expectation that something will change position. The shot is of the American flag, which is focused while the background is unfocused which means it indicates that the flag is of importance.
From the close-up of the American flag we get a handheld panning shot of a car crash, this shows us a deeper meaning: America has fallen. While the actor stands up with his body-mounted camera it creates an illusion of a point of view shot, tracking what the eyes see. This illusion is emphasized after a zombie is attacking the character. The point of view shot transitions into a close up of the zombie breaking the fourth wall by looking right into the camera. The entire opening scene has titles in them that change every few seconds as the previous actor has destroys them.
The filmmakers used bold red font for the titles. Red is used because it symbolizes blood and death, which represents the gore within the film. The titles are the actors/actress, production and filmmaker’s names. Another artistic choice is the use of ramping; the entire sequence is slowed down to slow motion. This gives the sequence a dramatic effect and it increases the intensity of the moment created subsequently the picture fade away. When it fades back; the first scene of the movie is shown. The exposure during the whole movie is half a stop darker than a usual exposure.
The color of the film is natural, which gives the movie a more realistic tone. It shows the world as it is. What also becomes visible in this film is the unrestricted narration. Meaning that we are only confined to what the character sees and since it takes place in the time of a zombie apocalypse, it gives the story a realistic feel, this because we function unrestricted too. We only see something when we are directly looking or sensing it. For instance Columbus; we see the world mainly through his eyes. Columbus narrates the entire story. Herewith we built up a relationship with this film character.
We feel sympathy for him. Big motifs in the film are his rules of survival and a parallelism where Columbus is talking about the death (of a zombie) of the week with Tallahassee. Columbus mentions these things quite a few times in the film. Sound is also a big part of the film. There is a non-diegetic soundtrack used throughout the title sequence, which is rock music and when the American flag appears, the music changes to the American anthem, which is slightly lower pitched and distorted. This adds to the whole imagery of the film. Then you also have Columbus’s observations and comments that run throughout the film as well.
Director and editor also used diegetic sound, which is mainly used for the growling of the zombies when they are attacking people. The sound of the zombies growling is low pitched and the amplitude of the vibrations is loud. Another big part of the film is mise-en-scene. For instance the setting; throughout the film the filmmakers made use of a lot of local areas like on location settings. “Zombieland” was filmed in Atlanta, GA so they used a lot of practical locations like the grocery store and the amusement park in which a big fight between the living and the undead played out.
The settings the director and producer have chosen are not typical for a horror film since they’re well lit daily life locations. The lighting is mainly high key, which emphasizes the use of the setting since this kind of lighting gives an upbeat mood to the scene. The establishing shot of the post-apocalyptic world is mainly lit low-key to show how annihilated the world is. Natural light is not often used. Although the setting and lighting are not stereotypical horror they are all stereotypical for television, like sitcoms and comedies, which is what the film is going for since its main genre is Comedy.
The overall lighting in the film makes the situation of the people in more realistic. It seems that this could happen in the real world. Another part, which is also important for the mise-en-scene, is makeup and the costumes. Costumes and make-up are different for the humans and the zombies. The zombies are covered in blood; their body seemed to rot and their costumes are ripped away from their body. The humans are dressed in everyday clothes with simple make-up. The make-up of the zombie is mainly paint-brushed realistically, reflecting the stereotypical Horror genre.
The Comedy in this film is shown through facial expressions and body language. During the whole film the axis of action is maintained, ensuring that the position of the person in the frame remains a consistent screen duration and eyeline. If the axis of action would not be maintained it could create jump cuts this could also affect the mood and sphere of the film, which could distract the audience. The temporal continuity in the film is in complete continuity. None of the sounds are elided; this makes the scene more intense because the viewer is not distracted by the sound that is slightly jumped over.
The flashbacks cause certain disunity in the film, since they are not elements that fit in the already established pattern. Columbus is geeky and neurotic character, as is shown through his narration during the film. It reveals that he is lonely, and through the cinematography it becomes clear that his loneliness is the gravity of the film. This by showing how the world to him became to: “Shit storm”. The way it was shot shows his view on the world and how terrible it became. This makes him even more aware of how lonely he is since there is nobody he can interact with. He can’t even escape into his virtual world like he used to.
Even low-key lighting shows how grim the world became to him. The setting also contributes to show his loneliness, like the freeway, which is abandoned. His facial expression during the movie is expressing one mood: anxiety. Even when he is with Tallahassee he carries around the feeling of anxiousness and desolation until he meets Wichita. This is when the setting changes to a more colorful and saver surrounding: Bill Murray’s house. All in all, this film is about Columbus’s loneliness and how that develops throughout the movie with the help of numerous techniques as cinematography, mise-en-scene, sound and editing.