Shaun of the Dead (2004)
I wasn't blown away by Shaun of the Dead the first time I saw it. I suppose the relentless online hype may have had something to do with that (these days I temper my expectations). It still stuck in my mind, however, and as time went by I felt the need to see it again. Having now watched it a second time years later, I realize that it isn't just a good film, it's a great one and one that I suspect I will be revisiting on many an occasion.
Shaun of the Dead is the creation of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the duo behind the excellent British geek sitcom Spaced (of which I've seen only a few episodes and need to see more). Pegg and Wright wrote the film and Wright directed it. The film is a hybrid horror / comedy / romance about a guy in his late twenties named Shaun (Simon Pegg). Shaun is a slacker stuck in a dead end job who enjoys hanging out at his favourite pub, The Winchester, with his slovenly and slothful best friend Ed (Nick Frost), his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), and her oddball roommates David (Dylan Moran) and Diane (Lucy Davis, who played Dawn in 'The Office'). Liz is tired of the mundane routine nature of her relationship with Shaun, so he promises to change. He screws up, of course, and Liz promptly dumps him. To add to his woes, he has issues with his mother (Penelope Wilton) and stepfather (Bill Nighy). When the dead start coming back to life as zombies and overrun London, Shaun is finally given the impetus he needs to take control of his life. He sets out to gather all the people he cares about and lead them to safety - safety being The Winchester!
Shaun of the Dead is that rare multi genre film that somehow manages to be true to each of those genres. It's a genuine horror film and a genuine comedy, and it's excellent in every regard. It is hilarious and scary, with all the gore you'd expect from a real zombie movie. While it's ostensibly a parody of zombie films, it's actually a homage to them. The comedy element comes not from the zombies but from the characters and the situations they get themselves into. It's nicely plotted and the script is layered and fast paced - there's never a dull moment or wasted line, and a lot of information is conveyed to the audience economically, such as the clever use of background TV footage to let the audience know what's happening in the world with regard to the zombie situation. There are also loads of subtle references to other films. The characters are remarkably well fleshed out, and their behaviour consistent and truthful to what is established even when reacting to bizarre and improbably situations. Much of the humour plays on their obliviousness to what's going on in front of them, and on the silly ways in which they deal with things when they finally catch on.
Wright does a remarkable job balancing the horror and comedy elements, often juxtaposing the two within the same scene and creating something horrifying and funny at the same time. The 'action' sequences in the film are also well realized and, truth be told, wouldn't be out of place in a genuine horror movie. The frenzied (and really cool) editing style that is often employed lends the film energy and pacing that amplifies the already fast paced script. For a relatively low budget film, Shaun of the Dead looks terrific. The zombies in particular are well realized, and I'll have to express the same sentiment about them that I've been expressing right throughout - they could be right out of a pure zombie movie.
The film revolves around Shaun, and Simon Pegg is up to the task in the key role. He captures perfectly the attitude and mannerisms of a downbeat slacker (I ought to know), and his somewhat bumbling 'take charge' transformation and the emotional turmoil he goes through are all convincing. Also great is Nick Frost as the 'should-be-detestable-on-paper-but-strangely-charming' Ed, who's a great foil for Shaun. David Moran and Lucy Davis are also memorable and funny as the bickering couple, while Wilton and Nighy are fantastic in their straight faced, stiff upper lip portrayals of Shaun's mum and stepdad respectively. Kate Ashfield is solid as Liz and has her moments but isn't quite as memorable as everyone else. Last but not least are the zombies, who turn in some terrific, crunchy, munchy, squelchy performances - the wrangler is worthy of the highest praise.
Shaun of the Dead is now a film that I more than just like; I'm now a bona fide fan. It's an incredibly well made film that I'm certain will stand the test of time. I can't wait to see how Hot Fuzz, Pegg and Wright's upcoming follow up (also starring Pegg and Frost in very different roles from this film) buddy cop parody turns out. Early word is they've created a film at least as good as Shaun - no mean feat.
As an aside, since this film features romance and copious amounts of bloody undead violence, it's only fitting that I post this entry on Valentine's Day.