December 18, 2010

Shaun of the Dead (Review)

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Director: Edgar Wright

5 / 5 zedheads


Shaun of the Dead. How do I love you? Let me count the ways.

1.) The name of this very blog is inspired by your script.
2.) I drink my beer from a Winchester Tavern pint glass.
3.) My Shaun and Ed action figures are the focal point of my zombie figure collection.
4.) After countless viewings, you still make me laugh.

Suffice it to say, I love Shaun of the Dead. Like Ghostbusters -- a childhood favorite -- Shaun of the Dead never seems to get old. I can watch it year after year. When Shaun first debuted, I was in University, and it rekindled my love of zombies. Not only is Shaun a classic of the comedy and zombie genres, it also marks a special time in my life and is imbued with sentimental value.
My zombie contingency plan
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a 29-year-old electronics salesman whose life is in a slump. His best friend Ed (Nick Frost) is an immature slob, and Shaun's girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is growing impatient with Shaun's lack of drive and countless nights spent wasted away in the dim confines of the Winchester, a local pub. After three years, Liz hasn't even met Shaun's Mom yet. It seems that after college Shaun's life entered a holding pattern, and he's now just going through the motions. As a result, Liz breaks up with him. Unfortunately, she breaks up with him the day before a full-blown zombie outbreak. With hordes of lifeless flesh eaters outside his door keeping him from Liz, Shaun is galvanized to action. Go round Mum's. Get Liz back. Sort life out! He just has to survive the zombies first.

The Big Book of British Smiles
Shaun of the Dead is first and foremost a tight and clever script. There is absolutely nothing wasted in this film -- no plot development, no line, no detail. Everything contributes to the whole, and many lines or scenarios pay off two or three times over in the form of comedic callbacks and comedic mirroring. But a great script is worthless without great actors. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost give standout performances in this film bringing Shaun and Ed to a vivid life that expertly combines buffoonery and sincerity. Sincerity is the key to the performances in Shaun. It's often outlandish, silly at times, violently gory at others, but throughout the film is a strong core of emotional sincerity that raises Shaun well above the level of most comedies. As British playwright Christopher Fry once said, "Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith." There's a strong element of truth underlying the jokes in Shaun. They, and the zombies as metaphor, help audiences work through some of their modern despair with laughs.

Pool, anyone?
In particular, Shaun connects with a lot of young men in this generation who feel stuck between adolescence and adulthood in a corporate world that works them too hard but encourages compliance. Like the bored, tired, oblivious, and sickly people we see Shaun pass and ride with during his daily commute, a lot of people today already feel like zombies. The undead zombies in Shaun represent what we could all become, empty and mindless automatons instinctively consuming to fill the emptiness inside. Shaun's growth as a character towards finding a purpose and inner strength, developed through his quirky misadventures during the zombie apocalypse, connects with audiences also wishing for the opportunity to prove themselves and start over with a clean slate. The more zombies Shaun dispatches, the further away he moves from becoming a zombie himself. In many ways, Shaun is a white-collar hero that fans embrace. I think that's why we still see so many people dressed up as Shaun for Halloween, conventions, and zombie walks. Foremost, Shaun of the Dead is a comedy, but I think his character has actually touched a lot of people.
When presented with the "You have red on you" joke, zombies are often confused.
For zombie fans, there's even more to love about Shaun. While the film is appreciated by general audiences, Shaun of the Dead is full of zombie references for hardcore fans. Writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright are clearly lovers of the zombie genre. Shaun is shown to work at Foree Electronics, named after actor Ken Foree, a lead in George A. Romero's original Dawn of the Dead. Shaun tries to get at able at Fulci's restaurant, named after Lucio Fulci: the director of Zombi 2, City of the Living Dead, and The Beyond. Above all, Shaun's zombies are taken right from the mold set forth by George A. Romero in his classic trinity: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. I've yet to meet a zombie fan who has not appreciated the film's zombie sequences, makeup, and bloody effects. For a comedy, Shaun has surprising amounts of gore. It's a perfectly balanced package of humor and shock. If you love Romero's classic films, you'll love these elements of Shaun of the Dead.
Clean up in aisle four!
Though a confluence of performances, scripting, directing, choreography, and sublime cultural timing, Shaun of the Dead has become an indisputable cult classic in both the zombie and comedy genres. It's a film I love and hold as dearly as Romero's first three zombie films. It's a worthy successor to Romero's cultural spirit, but it also proved to be a fresh and invigorating addition to the zombie genre and a motivating influence in our culture's current fascination with the living dead.

More reviews next week as I review even more zombie classics as part of my Christmas countdown: THE 12 DAYS OF ZOMBIE