July 12, 2010

Fido (Review)

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Fido (2006)

Director: Andrew Currie

4.5 / 5 zedheads

"A Better Life Through Containment"

Start with Timmy and Lassie. Then replace Timmy's faithful collie with a zombie that not only can play fetch but also serve up a roast and mow the lawn. Next, drop them both into the idyllic, white suburban American world of Leave it to Beaver in the wake of a zombie war. With that, you get a sense of the setting and style of Fido but not its heart. At its heart, Fido is a delicate synthesis of the twisted with the endearing and the satirical in one of the most original zombie comedies to come along in years. Fido became an instant classic for me and occupies a proud space in my collection next to other hits such as Shaun of the Dead and Dance of the Dead.

 Keep your zombies leashed, spayed, and neutered

NEWSFLASH! The Zombie Wars are over. After a devastating battle with a plague of flesh-hungry corpses, America has settled into a comfortable world of self-contained gated communities and overbearing security ("Now, I know you're not supposed to have a hand gun until you're twelve... but it can come in real handy.") Thanks to the work of ZomCon, the zombies have become domesticated and put to to work as menial laborers, controlled by patented collars that suppress the undead's cravings for hot flesh.

That collar really brings out your blood stains.

 In this post-war world, Timmy (K'sun Ray) lives in the too-perfectly-manicured community of Willard, safe from the devastated zone of wild zombies outside the city gates. Timmy is a boy of unusual skepticism toward the virtues of the omnipresent ZomCon corporation, which manufactures every facet of life from cars to milk to head coffins for those who don't want to reanimate after death. At first, his mother Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) doesn't know how to relate to Timmy. Like the TV mothers of the 1950s and early 1960s, she thinks that after a quick hug and some pie no one has to think of their problems anymore. Even worse, Timmy's father Bill (Dylan Baker) is completely distant and uninterested in his wife or son; he's too obsessed with golf and securing a funeral (a luxury only the rich can afford in the world of Fido). Everything changes when Helen, who is tired of keeping up with the Joneses, buys her family their very own zombie servant (Billy Connolly). After Timmy nicknames the zombie "Fido," a quirky relationship soon begins to develop where Timmy, Fido, and Helen become best friends and learn to express themselves. Unfortunately, a glitch in Fido's collar causes him to eat the next door neighbor, which sets off a series of events that brings Timmy into conflict with the head of ZomCon security: zombie war hero Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czerny).

You never want to stand next to the happiest man at a funeral

As a story, Fido is somewhat brilliant in its construction. By playing off the conventional "boy and his dog" tale set in a highly artificial world crafted to represent an idealized 1950s, the story has an automatic emotional connection to the endearing, heart-warming tales of Lassie and like films from the era. But it's also twisted. While light on the surface, it's easy to forget a lot of dark stuff happens in this movie. People get eaten during zombie attacks. There are head shots. There's some dismemberment. Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson) has a zombie girlfriend who he clearly gets intimate with. Because the world is so artificial and clearly satirical, however, it takes the edge of the violence. By using zombies, director Andrew Currie can exploit the satirical potential of zombies and the transgressive nature of violence, gore, and humour, to poke some fun at the post 9-11 culture of fear and isolation. ("A Better Life Through Containment!"). Currie knows just what NOT to show and how to keep his satire noticeable but subtle.

Oh, you crazy, wonderful zombie!

Thankfully, every actor in this film completely embodies their peculiar parts. In particular, Billy Connolly reigns in his usual vocal energy and redirects it into a wholly physical performance as Fido that is completely lovable. Dylan Baker also strikes the right note as a man so obsessed with not becoming a zombie in death that he isn't really living. Although peculiar and funny, the movie never forgets that zombies are flesh-hungry, but it's shown that in the right conditions they can suppress their urges and become quite human. The film walks that fine line between humanizing the zombies without taking away their bite. Then again, the zombie violence is not treated too seriously. There's a fine amount of blood and some gore, but when Fido's control collar glitches and he kills the cranky old neighbor, Timmy treats the grisly scene the same as one would a dog who's slipped his chain and dug up the neighbor's prized azaleas. When the film is all said and done, it is still a good story about a boy and his family, but throughout it's designed to make you chuckle if you enjoy your zombie comedies satirical and can buy into the premise of the world in which Fido takes place.

I hope ZomCon doesn't run the mail system with the same efficiency!

Finally, this film is a beautifully designed production. Vintage vehicles and bright clothes; carefully sculpted suburban communities and lush parks; the music of yesteryear:  the town of Willard feels like it came right out of a 1950s movie. It's ideally presented and purposely contrast against the smudged, dark grey zombies who trudge through their un-lives doing all the crap work that makes the society thrive. You're not going to notice any non-Caucasian residents in Willard. The zombies are the oppressed underclass.

Even better than George A. Romero's Land of the Dead, Fido manages to entertain while at the same time embedding a potent political and class metaphor within the zombie plot. Fido is foremost a comedy with some great quotable lines, but I won't claim the humour is universal. I do think there's a lot of people out there for whom the film's intelligent, dark, and satirical comedy will taste just right. Go ahead and take a bite out of Fido. With so many low-grade, poorly produced, and cookie-cutter zombie films on the market, treat yourself to something fun and fresh (or as fresh as a zombie can get).