Halloween film review: "Shaun of the Dead"
By Jono Baron
Gargoyle senior editor
Posted Friday, Oct. 27, 2006, The OG, arts
Never before in the history of horror film has the portrayal of various reanimated corpses searching for nothing but the flesh of the living been so utterly witty and brilliantly mastered as it is in “Shaun of the Dead.”
This British comedy flawlessly parodies such zombie films as “Dawn of the Dead,” which was remade just prior to the 2004 release of “Shaun of the Dead.”
But the brilliance of the film doesn't just lie in its title. “Shaun of the Dead” draws so much inspiration from the original zombie classics that it still works perfectly as a survival horror movie. But instead of just becoming another mindless version of every other zombie cult classic, “Shaun of the Dead” takes things in a new direction.
The film opens with a scene between Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield). We quickly find out Shaun's life has essentially remained unchanged since his high school years, in the worst way possible.
He and his best friend, Ed, played by Nick Frost, spend their days on the couch playing video games (or in Shaun's case, at his dead-end job at an electronics store) and nights at a local pub called The Winchester. We quickly realize that Shaun suffers from lack of motivation, so Liz, who isn't exactly thrilled to be an accessory to his vegetative lifestyle, dumps him.
At about the same time, Shaun begins to notice some strange occurrences. At first, he doesn't think much of it (for instance, Shaun walks to a nearby convenience store right past the zombie forms of his neighbors without even noticing the sirens, destruction, or blood all over the place — he just continues his daily routine). But it doesn't take long for him and Ed realize they've got a zombie invasion on their hands. The thing is, this doesn't really happen until they're actually being bitten at.
Even when he and Ed do start combating the undead, they have no idea what they're doing. Their initial response (after Ed stops taking pictures with a disposable camera) is to throw Shaun's old vinyl records at the monsters. Their only information for defense comes from a news anchor's mantra, “The attackers can be stopped by removing the head or destroying the brain.”
All of this is hilarious. In serious zombie films, it's supposedly incredibly hard to fend off your attackers. In the remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” the zombie hordes are even reported to have taken out a military base (which raises some questions, seeing as the main characters of the film hole themselves up fairly comfortably in a normal mall without any problems and are by no means trained professionals with state-of-the-art equipment, but oh well). But Shaun and Ed seem to do just fine (at least for a while) with a shovel and a cricket bat.
It's little things like this that are so amusing. A lot of it, of course, is context — it would be funnier to the average Joe if he's seen the actual films “Shaun of the Dead” parodies — but just the fact that people would deal with fighting off the undead so normally is hilarious enough on its own. Plus, the zombies themselves retain the characteristics of their human counterparts.
The strangest thing is, “Shaun of the Dead” probably gives a more accurate portrayal of the way real people would act in a zombie invasion than the serious zombie films do. I mean, come on — if you can “kill” one with a cricket bat, you can certainly send one straight back to hell with a high-powered rifle, especially if you're a trained professional.
Also, it's enlightened in the sense that the main characters don't even comprehend what's going on for a good deal of the film. They think of their friends and family above survival (which leads Shaun to rescue Liz and her flatmates as well as his mother) and deal with every tribulation and trial subjectively, not like battle-hardened warriors, despite the warnings they receive from the television. And, after all, if there were dead people walking around everywhere trying to eat you, would you listen to the TV? Would you even be able to properly grasp what you were witnessing?
“Shaun of the Dead” gives an interesting philosophical spin to this question as well. Even before the zombie invasion and blood and gore, everyone still looks and acts like a mindless automaton. Perhaps it's going a bit far to raise “Shaun of the Dead” to the level of an all-out social critique, but it certainly has some critical aspects to it.
But overall, the film is just straightforward and fun to watch, and it's got something for everyone. “Shaun of the Dead” contains enough action, horror, and comedy — even romance and hilariously staged musical bits — to have you running out to buy the DVD, just in case you have a zombie invasion of your own to face.
“SHAUN OF THE DEAD”
— Click here for IMDB entry
— Released: 2004
— Country: United Kingdom
— Runtime: 99 minutes
— Rated: R
— Director: Edgar Wright
— Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis