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Shaun of the Dead
Shaun is pushing
thirty. He has a dead-end job, an antagonistic stepfather, a fat, dead-beat best friend
named Ed who came for a visit several years ago and still hasnt left, and an
increasingly fed up girlfriend. While he knows that something has to change, slacker
inertia is such that only the most apocalyptic upheaval is likely to make any difference.
That upheaval comes in the form of a plague of the living dead, but since these are
traditional George A. Romero living dead i.e., slow, stupid, and given to
low-voiced moans rather than shrieks and since Shaun is in the self-absorbed throes
of losing his girlfriend, it takes him awhile to notice. "I dont have any
change," he says dully, brushing past an ambulatory corpse who accosts him on the
Once he and Ed do figure it out, however, Shaun springs into action
with the air of someone who has suddenly been awakened to whats truly important.
That would be rescuing and winning back his girlfriend, Liz after hes rescued
his mum, of course. In a ruined city besieged by the dead, Shaun comes into his own as a
man of action, leading a small band of survivors to the one place hes sure
theyll all be safe: his favorite pub.
Shaun of the Dead is described in its ads as a romantic
comedy. It is that and everything a zombie movie should be. Theres loving attention
to detail, references to other zombie films, and violence so over-the-top it becomes
The early scenes, in which Shaun is only dimly aware that theres
something going wrong beyond his love life, are reminiscent of the 1978 version of Invasion
of the Body Snatchers, with quick disturbing vignettes in the background. An
apparently terrified man runs down a city street. A homeless person may or may not have
just bitten the head off a pigeon. When the dead finally become impossible to overlook,
they are depicted as individuals with implied back-stories. One is still wearing her
nametag from work, another, minus one arm, is in the formal wear of a wedding guest.
Theres a bit more sentimentality than one usually finds in a zombie flick -- every
major character who gets kicked off is apparently required to make a touching dying speech
first but after all it is supposed to be a romantic comedy.
And Shaun of the Dead has that most vital ingredient of any
good zombie film, an underlying layer of social commentary that gives the script a brain.
In Romeros Dawn
of the Dead, it was consumerism, in its 2004
remake it was hopelessness, and in 28
Days Later it was Rage. In Shaun of the Dead, its obliviousness.
By the end of the film its obvious that the difference between zombification and the
unaware numbness of everyday life is merely one of degree.
Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Edgar Wright, is
delightful as Shaun. Nick Frost is first revolting, then sympathetic, then revolting again
as Ed. Theres also the forbiddingly British Bill Nighy as Shauns step-father
and Penelope Wilton as Shauns relentlessly cheerful mother. Various British media
celebrities like Trish Goddard and Jeremy Thompson appear as themselves in brief clips
showing TV coverage of the crisis. Most American viewers probably wont recognize
them, but the vignettes are funny and pointed enough to stand on their own as satire.
Its still early in this years horror film season, but Shaun
of the Dead movie will probably qualify as one of the years best of its kind.
- Pamela Troy