The apocalypse is officially underway.
We’re talking, of course, about the recent back-to-back announcements of two new, exciting zombie movies in the works. What did you think we meant?
Friday the 13th was a busy day for zombie and comedy fans alike. The Hollywood Reporter revealed that a sequel to the beloved cult classic Zombieland is officially greenlit. The original cast of the 2009 sleeper hit — including stars Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Woody Harrelson — is reuniting under director Ruben Fleisher, who directed the first Zombieland.
Zombieland’s return isn’t the only thing on our minds. Variety reports that a new zombie comedy, The Dead Don’t Die, is also in the works. The Dead Don’t Die is set to Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, and features a stacked cast (we couldn’t just list a select few): Selena Gomez, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Daniel Craig, Rosie Perez, Austin Butler, and Chloe Sevigny.
The high-profile nature of the two announcements has us wondering if Hollywood’s pivoting back to the undead after a glut of zombie content peaked about 10 years ago. Are we in for a zombie renaissance?
It’s not like audiences are strangers to these supernatural monsters. Zombieland blew up the same year the teen lit sensation Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hit shelves. The Walking Dead became a phenomenon in 2010, and 2013’s World War Z dominated the box office. The zombie is a relatively new phenomenon — the monster’s first appearance in a Hollywood production was less than a century ago in 1932’s White Zombie, and it has compelled creators and audiences alike since. But look back, and you’ll notice that iconic zombie-heavy movies, video games, books, and TV shows surface nearly every decade: 28 Days Later (2002), Resident Evil (1996), Dawn of the Dead (1978) (and its subsequent remakes and spoofs), and the groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Unlike zombie movies that came before, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead ripped away the thin veil of “inspired by” and instead embodied a timely political message. Made during the civil rights movement, Night of the Living Dead skewers the era’s racial politics using pointed, straightforward metaphor. The film’s true horror isn’t the undead — it’s human nature, and our genuinely terrifying ability to mob against each other on the basis of fear and hatred.
As such, the zombie movie has always been an effective tool with which to comprehend current events. Zombies are blank slates. They attack en masse, usually driven only by an insatiable need to consume and infect, making them the perfect monster to hold a mirror up to the values and the fears of the living.
Which brings us back to the zombie renaissance. Both Zombieland 2 and The Dead Don’t Die are billed as comedies, a choice that’s already reminiscent of how we cope with our modern day news cycle. A funny tweet can be banal; it can also be a reaction to the horrors that regularly populate our feeds. This defense mechanism keeps us sane enough to process it — to stay alive.
And the news — the horrors, the attacks, the far-right hate speech and brazen Nazism — can be brutal, in no small part because it is coming from within. These are our neighbors, in theory. These are people who vote alongside us in elections, who live in our country, who also call themselves Americans. These are our zombies: the faces of people we know turned dead and hungry and hateful. They are a wave of people indiscriminately on the attack, screaming “fake news” and inciting violence against people of color, LGBTQ communities, women, and immigrants.
It’s no wonder zombies continue to inspire today. The zombie seems to say, look at what you are at risk of becoming: a shell of a person. What distinguishes you from the undead? What makes you human?