Shaun of the Dead

Shaun-Of-The-Dead-rev Shaun of the Dead  (2004)    Rogue Pictures/Horror-Comedy    RT: 99 minutes    Rated R (zombie violence and gore, language)    Director: Edgar Wright    Screenplay: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg    Music: Pete Woodhead and Daniel Mudford    Cinematography: David M. Dunlap    Release date: September 24, 2004 (US)    Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Peter Serafinowicz, Rafe Spall, Martin Freeman, Reece Shearsmith, Tamsin Grieg, Julia Deakin, Matt Lucas.    Box Office: $13.4 million (US)/$30 million (World)

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 I’m the first to admit that the whole zombie thing has been done to death (or undeath) as of late with movies like 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Zombieland (which I actually like), Pontypool, Warm Bodies and World War Z. Then there’s the TV show-turned-phenomenon The Walking Dead (which I’ve never watched). Me, I’m a fan of George A. Romero’s original Dead trilogy (the newer trilogy is okay) and Dan O’Bannon’s gory spoof The Return of the Living Dead. I’m also a big fan of Shaun of the Dead, a British send-up of the zombie genre. This movie is a riot! Only the Brits would react to a zombie outbreak with an “oh, bother!” attitude.

 Directed by Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Shaun of the Dead stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as a couple of layabouts who wake up one day to find the world a very different place. They don’t notice right away, it takes them a bit of time, but they eventually realize they’re in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Before I get to that, perhaps I ought to talk about their characters a bit. Pegg (better known as Scotty of the rebooted Star Trek movies) plays the titular character Shaun, a slacker with no direction in life other than the one that leads to his favorite pub The Winchester every night. He works at an electronics store where his younger co-workers mock him. He lives with his best friend Ed (Frost, Attack the Block), a crude sort that sits on his ass all day playing video games and calls everybody a certain c-word (it means something different in the UK). Shaun’s girlfriend Liz (Ashfield, The War Zone) has had it with Shaun and his constant bad choices. When he flubs their anniversary dinner, she ends the relationship. That’s where he finds himself when the zombies rise up.

SHAUN-OF-THE-DEAD Shaun, with no real help from Ed, comes up with a plan to rescue Liz and his mum Barbara (Wilton, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and stepdad Philip (Nighy, Love Actually) and take them to a safe place to wait out the apocalypse. By no coincidence, the safe place happens to be The Winchester. Along with Liz’ friends/flatmates David (Moran, Run Fatboy Run) and Dianne (Davis, Some Guy Who Kills People), the group slowly makes their way to the pub, all the while trying to avoid the zombies. One bite is all it takes to become one of the horde.

 What’s really funny about Shaun of the Dead is that it doesn’t focus so much on the zombies as it does the bickering between the characters. Liz is still angry at Shaun and nothing will change that, not even a zombie situation. There’s always been tension between Shaun and his stepfather. There’s a mutual dislike between Shaun and Liz’ two friends, “a failed actress and a twat” as he calls them. It’s kind of like a Brit-com where the character interplay is periodically interrupted by zombies. Whatever it is, it’s brilliant.

 Wright, who co-wrote the script with Pegg, imbues his characters with comic depth. Take Shaun’s mum and stepdad. They personify the bourgeois values of the British middle class. Mom doesn’t want to cause any inconvenience by telling anybody she’s been bitten. She sits on that information until she can’t hide it anymore. Even then, she’s apologetic. Shaun is clueless to the n-th degree. The morning after the outbreak, he walks to and from the local convenience store without noticing the groaning, shuffling, flesh-eating beings all around him. He’s too hung-over to see he’s in imminent danger of being eaten. It’s little touches like this that separate Shaun of the Dead from American-made horror spoofs like the Scary Movie series (five so far). I also got a kick out of Shaun and Ed protecting themselves with the former’s record collection but only with the ones he doesn’t like anymore- e.g. the Batman soundtrack. Sade can go too because it belongs to Liz.

 Shaun of the Dead isn’t as gory as you might expect but it still has a fair amount of violence and splatter. The special effects are quite good. I like that Wright sticks with traditional walking zombies as opposed to the kind that run with unbelievable CGI-speed. It also has a pretty cool soundtrack with tunes like “White Lines” (Melle Mel) and “Don’t Stop Me Now” (Queen) used to great comic effect. There are also many great lines of dialogue but my favorite has to be when Ed assures Shaun’s mother of being rescued by saying, “We’re coming to get you, Barbara!” It’s a goof on a line familiar to those familiar with Night of the Living Dead. I love that it’s treated like a throwaway line. I don’t find many comedies funny nowadays but Shaun of the Dead had me in a near-constant state of laughter. It goes to show how a different cultural perspective can make something tired feel fresh. It’s easily one of the best comedies of the century. 

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