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Shaun of the Dead (A Movie Review)


Starring Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Jessica Stevenson, Peter Serafinowicz, Rafe Spall, Nicoia Cunningham, Sonell Dadral, Steve Emerson, Phyllis McMahon and Chris Martin.

Screenplay by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.

Directed by Edgar Wright.

Distributed by Rogue Pictures. 100 minutes. Rated R.

Just like the supernatural beings that they are based upon, zombie movies are sort of an unstoppable force. They'll lay low for a decade or two, but eventually they'll come shambling back into the multiplexes. The dead eyes, the vacant stares, the mindless bloodlust; it is all an idea that is ripe for parody.

That is, of course, overlooking the fact that all zombie films are essentially parodies, from the granddaddy of them all, The Night of the Living Dead through Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies. In the past year, the zombies have come stumbling back with a vengeance, first there was the British thriller 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead (which was the sequel of Night of the Living Dead, which has also been remade... oh, it all gets rather incestuous in the zombie movie world.). Essentially they all have the same storyline. The dead come back to life, and boy, are they hungry. The only thing which will sate their ravenous appetites is human flesh. They are slow and not that smart, but as they convert their victims to the undead they are suddenly everywhere – a mindless, massive horde bent upon destruction.

Anyway, the third helping of rotting corpses to hit our multiplex screens in 2004 is also the best, quite simply because it makes no airs – it is blatantly and completely a comedy. Shaun of the Dead is a British goof on the genre. Co-screenwriter Simon Pegg stars as Shaun, a guy stuck in a rut. He hates his job as a television salesman. His girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is ready to leave him because it seems all he wants to do is hang out at the Pub every night, hoisting a few pints with his immature college buddy Ed (Nick Frost.) He doesn't get along with his step-father (Bill Nighy) and sometimes gets annoyed with his dithering mother (Penelope Wilton). He does the same things every day; play video games, buy the paper, go to work, go to the Winchester (the local pub), drink, go home, sleep... rinse and repeat, ad nauseum.

Shaun is so wrapped up in his fetid life and problems that he barely notices that all of his neighbors are suddenly limping down the street with their arms outstretched, grimacing in horror, groaning in pain and seeking fresh meat. When he finally realizes what is happening, he tries to save his friends, lover and his mum from the visiting scourge. He does it in a typical Shaun way (he decides the ideal place to wait out the zombie attack is where he always goes anyway, the pub.) However, as he and his charges are put into greater and greater danger, only then does he find the strength within him.

So it seems, Shaun was already a zombie, just one who was alive. Fighting off the already dead makes Shaun a better man. It's a one-joke premise, but it is a pretty funny joke, so I'll give the filmmakers some slack.

Pegg is very funny as a frustrated everyman thrust into a very odd situation. All he really wants from life is to be left alone with his gal and his buds, and frankly all these flesh eaters are a pretty big pain in the ass. He is thrust into a leadership role that he is not ready for and he makes as many mistakes as he has triumphs. His best friend Ed is always dragging him down, but their friendship is long and grounded in a shared history and love for fart jokes.

The film is also funny in the fact that they try to make the zombies into a Jerry Springer kind of oddity. Being an undead flesh eater is just another weird perversion to be exploited in the world.

I really rather enjoyed Shaun of the Dead, although I don't expect I'll ever watch it again, or even likely think of it again after writing this article. Perhaps I'm just not a big enough fan of the genre to get totally geeked up about it, and honestly some of the violence is awfully graphic for a comedy (in particular the scene where the zombies capture Lizzie's nerdy roommate David.). I know a movie about man-eating zombies, even a funny one, is going to have some horrific moments, but still...

Shaun of the Dead won't win any Oscars, but it's a fun way to spend an afternoon. (9/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2004 All rights reserved. Posted: December 25, 2004.


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