Even with the popularity of zombie movies waning in culture, a Zombieland sequel has potential to reverse the recent failures in this particular undead subgenre of horror. What Zombieland: Double Tap promises is also it’s greatest asset, and something no new season of “The Walking Dead” has ever been able to guarantee; all of the original cast has returned. It has been ten years since the first movie, so the reunion of Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Jesse Eisenberg is an impressive feat. Their reunion is met with a screenplay (Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick) that is clever one moment and a bit too obvious in the next, but it is an easy view at just under 100-minutes. The inconsistency in the material prevents Zombieland: Double Tap from reaching the level of the original, though this is without the added entertainment value of the 4DX experience.
While the film itself is sufficiently entertaining, it is also a classic example of the law of diminishing returns. There is no need for a continuation of the past film and the characters don’t develop in any meaningful ways. In fact, I spent a majority of the movie trying to figure out what the plot was, though there isn’t much time between each joke and action sequence. But even if the entertainment value of the narrative is decreased from the first film, this is without taking into consideration the 4DX elements.
For those unaware with the specifics of the 4DX experience, see this article for a full description of the experience. It is important to note that not all 4DX theaters offer the same experience. Although each theater is provided with the same coding for the movement and effects, created by technicians to match up with the action onscreen, there may be variation from theater to theater in terms of what effects are available. For instance, while the CGV Cinemas I have visited have seats that move and vibrate, they do not have the other interactive features, such as the leg ticklers and any moment on the upper back, which are available in the Regal 4DX theaters. Different films have different effects, but which of those you experience depends on the equipment of each particular theater. I have used trial and error to find my favorite 4DX theater, though new ones seem to be opening with increasing regularity.
Effect 1: Motion and Vibration
Easily the most recognizable element of the 4DX experience is the seats that move and even vibrate to simulate the experiences onscreen. The vibration comes into play in Zombieland: Double Tap in a number of ways. There is another road trip worked into the narrative (this time to
beyond), which means a lot of time spent in vehicles. The gentle
rumbling/movement of the seats simulates being in the vehicles with the
characters. It is fairly subtle, until we take a ride in a monster truck with
them near the end of the film. This is one of the most exciting sequences in
the film and I thought I might be tossed out of my seat during it. On a side
note, there was a 4DX trailer for Ford v Ferrari before my screening and I am
excited for an entire film of simulated racecar movement.
When Double Tap isn’t using the motion to simulate driving, it is often used for the zombie fight scenes. A sudden attack by a zombie is enhanced with the simultaneous movement of the seats. More than once I felt as though I were being thrown around by a vicious flesh-eater. There are also times that the film simulates the movement of the camera, tilting the seats as the camera tilts up, and so forth, but there were also a number of dialogue scenes where the camera moved and the seats remained disappointingly still. With that being said, these moments were far fewer than I have experienced in other 4DX films, and the movie has enough action to make up for the few slower moments.
Effect 2: Back Effects
Helping with the direct identification with the characters under zombie attack is the effect that actually hits the back of the audience. It is more of a poke than a hit, protruding somewhere hidden beneath the padding of the chair’s back, effective not for the pain it causes but rather the shock from an unexpected assault. This is particularly effective in a horror movie, to simulate an assortment of shocks and attacks from the zombie threat. It is never over-used or abusive to the audience (it was borderline in John Wick 3), which makes the moments it was used all the more effective. Many of the back attacks were paired with a sudden seat movement, and occasionally a water effect, compounding the impact.
Effect 3: Air Blasts
The one effect used far less than I expected was the air blasts. They can come from both the seat in front of you to hit you directly in the face (this was only used paired with water to simulate blood splatter in Double Tap) or they may also come from the headrest to simulate something just missing hitting your head. It is a perfect way to simulate a close call with gunfire, which is exactly how Double Tap seems to utilize it the most. That being said, it was never over-used, making those moments all the more impactful.
Effect 4: Leg Ticklers
The leg ticklers are a couple of moving tubes (or some variation) that hit your legs to simulate movement. I imagined they would be perfect for a horror movie involving creatures moving around underfoot, and there are even a few scenes where zombies grab onto legs in this film. Unfortunately, this effect is pretty under-used for a film that could have capitalized on the shock. There were a few moments of debris in the middle of a battle that I believe I felt them move, but not to the degree of past releases.
Effect 5: Water Elements
As previously mentioned the air blasts coming from the front are meant to simulate blood splatter hitting your face. There were other times the blood splatter came from above, but that was about it for water. Water is never used for rain or any other water effect, but simply serves as a stand-in for the gross-out factor. There is something slightly gross about being hit with wetness during a bloody sequence, and it is perfectly suited for this type of film. When I wasn’t laughing at the jokes in the film, I was laughing at the fun absurdity of the things the 4DX was working to simulate.
Element 6: Floodlights
Often utilized to simulate lightning and explosions, there are large floodlights that flash on the sides near the front of the screen. There are a few of these explosions in Double Tap, though I don’t remember the floodlights being used much at all. They were used to great effect in the 4DX trailers shown before the film, however.
Element 7: Wind
The wind elements are used sparingly in Double Tap, mostly to simulate movement when driving in cars with the top down. The fans are another element that can run the risk of being over-used, but this isn’t the case with Double Tap. While there are definitely scenes which utilize the fans, it was never so much that I wished I had brought a jacket into the theater.
Element 8: Smoke/Fog Effects
There are a few large explosions in the film, and these are often paired with smoke effects, which fill the theater before the fans clear it away. While not the best use of the smoke/fog that I have seen in 4DX, it was effective enough for these brief moments.
Element 9: Snow
There is also one moment of snow at the beginning of the film, for those in theaters properly equipped. It is extremely brief and mostly unnecessary, but yet another element for those looking to get as complete of a sampling as possible.
Sometimes the 4DX experience can be heavy-handed with certain effects, while others seem sorely under-used. While Zombieland: Double Tap is not the flashiest 4DX film I have experienced (you don’t watch them; you experience them), it certainly would make a good introduction to the medium/format due the variety of effects used throughout the film. It has moments where no effects are used, but there are just as many moments which are unforgettable in their ability to integrate the effects to work with the film. Many of the issues in past 4DX films have been worked out and the experience has become increasingly immersive as a result. As more 4DX theaters open, the films being released in the format just seem to continue expanding the idea of what is possible. If nothing else, Zombieland: Double Tap opened me up to the possibilities of horror in a more interactive medium, and I am now ready for more.