Review: “Shaun of the Dead”
Produced by: Nira Park
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Peter Serafinowicz, Jessica Stevenson
Music by: Pete Woodhead, Daniel Mudford
I’m not going to pretend like Shaun of the Dead is some masterpiece of cinema. The movie speaks for itself — it is a masterpiece of comedy, no pretending needed! There’s just something so fun, so delightfully silly about the concept of a romantic comedy set during a zombie outbreak. I mean, seriously, how could you resist?
The film follows Shaun, an appliance salesman in his late twenties who revels and mourns in his stagnancy. He’s stuck at the same dreary job he’s had for who knows how long. He has the same best friend, Ed, but also the same grudge against his stepfather that he’s had since childhood. He has the same roommate he’s had since college, but he has to suffer his daily complaints about Ed’s freeloading. He also frequents the local pub, The Winchester, on a weekly, possibly daily basis, without any consideration for trying a new location. About the only thing ready to change in Shaun’s life is his relationship with his girlfriend, Liz, and not for the better. To her, it seems like the only thing that’s really going to get through to Shaun is the end of the world.
And then, of course, the world, at least as we know it, comes to an end.
Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright have crafted a funny, highly referential film without letting it feel as though it’s just another parody movie. Perhaps its appeal is due to the fact that, unlike most parodies, these guys revere the classic movies they borrow from, rather than revile them. One of the great things about this movie is how it uses all the horror tropes within a comedic, rather than horrific, context.
One of the subtler references is to Dawn of the Dead, where the dead flock towards places where they were once happy. In Dawn, it was a mall. In Shaun, however, it is, of course, The Winchester. Also George Romero’s Living Dead series, we never really find out what starts the zombie outbreak in Shaun of the Dead, either. We are given very slight hints, but every time the news offers up an answer, an oblivious character will change the channel, shut off the TV, or talk over it. The only thing we are made certain of is that it was not infected monkeys!
The film offers up tons of hilarious, macabre visual gags, too, all of which actually even serve a purpose. Just as in life, though, Shaun’s slow to realize the increasingly life-threatening problem going on around him. Throughout the film, lines, scenes, and actions are repeated in different contexts. Perhaps the best example are the parallel scenes where Shaun walks back and forth to the convenience store. One day it’s just a bunch of people slowly shuffling off to work, begging for money, or going on a morning jog. The next, it’s the same scenario, only… zombified. And Shaun is pretty much oblivious to the changes because, really, what’s changed other than their pulse? The repetition only serves to emphasize life’s often mundane nature and Shaun and the other characters’ acclimation to it.
Perhaps the best thing about this movie is that it bridges the gulf between horror fans and people who just want to have a fun time. The film has been called an amalgamation of horror and romantic comedy, and it’s pretty awesome at it, too. There’s gore and sudden scares, but it’s not too gory, and when it happens, it’s often played for laughs. Meanwhile, Liz and Shaun have conversations and fights about their relationship status, especially how after all this time Shaun hasn’t introduced Liz to his mother. When the zombie outbreak happens, however, Shaun makes it his mission to save his mother and introduce her to the girl of his dreams… even though the girl of his dreams has dumped him.
There are even a few moments that are a little more serious are effectively emotional while still being balanced out with the film’s silly sense of humor. The characters are all very well realized and get their moments to shine, which makes the emotional impact of some unexpected scenes just a little more powerful without getting too weepy. The climax of the film is as epic and tragic as it is exciting and gag-filled.
It’s hard for me to explain why Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorites, except to just say that if you haven’t seen it, then you don’t know just how fun and hilarious it is. It’s also just very expertly crafted, with great performances and a smart script — the repetition in different contexts works brilliantly in the context of the film’s perspective on how the more things change in life, the more they stay the same. Though Shaun’s journey has possibly made him a bit wiser and appreciate things better, he ultimately uses this newfound enlightenment to surround himself even more with the things and people he loves. After all, though loved ones may be gone, and though Shaun may still have to sort his life out, in a world where the dead rise again, well… there’s always tomorrow.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5