Friday, October 12, 2012

Shaun of the Dead

Directed by Edgar Wright.
2004. Rated R, 99 minutes. 
Simon Pegg 
Nick Frost 
Kate Ashfield 
Lucy Davis 
Dylan Moran 
Bill Nighy 
Penelope Wilton 
Jessica Stevenson 
Peter Serafinowicz 
Rafe Spall 
Martin Freeman

When we first meet Shaun (Pegg), he’s getting dumped by Liz (Ashfield), the love of his life. Shortly, we find out he’s stuck in a dead-end job and is enabling super-slacker Ed (Frost), his best friend whom everyone agrees is holding him back. He seems to have at least some inkling of the same but doesn’t want to get rid of his closest chum. Like most blokes who’ve lost the girl they think they can’t live without, he wants to win her back. Things are never so simple. When Shaun wakes up the next morning he discovers what everyone else, aside from Ed, has already learned: something has triggered a zombie outbreak. Pretty soon, the streets are crawling with London’s undead. They are only interested in one thing: chowing down on the regular folks and turning them into zombies, too. Shaun instantly realizes he has to save Liz, as well as his mom. He and Ed set off on a daring rescue mission. Oh, if you’re unfamiliar with Shaun of the Dead, this is a comedy so lots of laughs ensue.

More accurately, SotD can be described as a spoof. It takes the beloved sub-genre of zombie flicks and asks of it how would us simpletons react if we suddenly found these creatures in our midst. That Shaun is an unremarkable sort is a huge part of the movie’s charm. He’s one of us, as smart or stupid as the masses. He doesn’t come up with the greatest plan for survival. It is not particularly well thought out and he’s way too open to suggestion. Still it’s the one he’s going with. After all, this is a grown man with step-daddy issues who spends way too many nights binge drinking. He’s just a guy. From all of these things much humor is drawn.

Even more comedy is derived from the hordes of zombie movies that came before SotD, particularly those of George A. Romero. From the genre’s grand master, the look and movements of the zombies are faithfully replicated. The difference is that here, they are just zombies. In Romero’s work they are often the (undead) personification of his social commentary, metaphors for society’s ills. In SotD what they represent is irrelevant. Our reactions to them are anything but. We laugh not because of the zombies but because of the ineptness of the regular people on the screen.

However, our laughter may indeed hide a slight bit of fear, also. Perhaps we realize we may not fare any better. To foster this underlying dread, SotD never forgets that it is a zombie movie first and provides a palpable sense of danger even through the snickers it causes. People are dying off and becoming monsters in bloody fashion. Tough decisions have to be made and survival seems impossible. All of these are elements of great horror. The creatures here are no less ferocious or relentless than in more serious fare. Normally, the two contrasting styles running side-by-side are a recipe for disaster. Here, levity and tension complement one another. It’s as masterful a balancing act of humor and horror as has ever been achieved.

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