Shaun of the Dead (2004)

18 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There are many moments in zombie horror movies in which I have to stifle laughter. That is why “Shaun of the Dead” is such a pleasurable film, because I can laugh as loud as I want. Why? Because “Shaun of the Dead” is a British zombie comedy—it is supposed to make you laugh out loud because it’s intentionally funny. It’s obvious that the director Edgar Wright has studied the old great zombie movies, as well as the bad ones, to create a spoof, while at the same time producing a semi-serious horror film.

“Shaun of the Dead” is one of the funniest and brightest comedies I have ever seen. This is one of those great comedies where the film stops once in a while to give us a few chuckles after a big laugh, then starting over again with a big laugh and then a few chuckles so we can get hold of ourselves. I love the energy and wit that was put into this film. I’m even going to give it a four-star rating—I think it deserves it.

Simon Pegg is brilliantly cast as the main character Shaun, a lazy twenty-something whose best friend Ed (Nick Frost) lives with him, much to the discomfort of Shaun’s girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield). He likes his life just fine, as does Ed, who is probably lazier than Shaun. But Liz wants to do something different. Shaun doesn’t see it her way and the two break up. Darn. If only there was a way for Shaun to redeem his self-esteem…

Shaun and Ed wouldn’t know a zombie if she popped up in their backyard. A female zombie does appear in their backyard, but they think she’s drunk, realizing later what’s really going on. But as it turns out, the whole town is flooded with the slowly-moving flesh-eaters who can only be killed by “removing the head or destroying the brain.” Of course, you have to believe what you hear on the news in a desperate situation. Which album would you throw at a zombie’s head?

“Purple Rain.” “No.” “Sign o’ the Times” “Definitely not!” “The ‘Batman’ soundtrack.” “Throw it.”

Shaun and Ed pick up Liz and her roommates—David (Dylan Moran) and Dianne (Lucy Davis). They also take along Shaun’s mother Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and stepfather Phil (Bill Nighy). (Hmm…Barbara? I wonder if Ed will make a “Night of the Living Dead” reference anytime soon, using that name.) Anyway, Phil has a zombie bite but it’s OK because he “ran it under a cold tap.” The deadpan manner in which Bill Nighy delivers that line is one of many pleasures in this movie.

The movie has fun with its premise. If you think about it, zombies are not effective villains anymore. They move too slowly to be menacing and are too dumb to be diabolical. “Shaun of the Dead” sees them as targets for British humor and also overshadows them with actors who have fun with the goofiness of the premise and their characters. Also, the zombies are seen as metaphors for those who “sleepwalk through life.” One of the joys of this film is that the movie basically starts out as a sitcom and midway through the film changes tone. The zombies invade and the sitcom characters must escape their same, dull, boring routine and learn to survive the invasion. If the zombies hadn’t invaded, Shaun would have still been a lazy slacker, playing video games with Ed.

The movie isn’t just biting satire. There are plenty of other big laughs, as well as smiles, as when Dianne teaches the rest of the group how to act like zombies in order to blend in. Other great scenes: Shaun and Ed look through old LPs and decide which ones to use to decapitate a zombie; the group fights a zombie at the pub while a cheesy Queen song is played; Ed’s “Barbara” line (you’ll see). There is also a large amount of gore, but not enough to make you queasy.

And taking us through it all is Shaun, played with a solid, straight-man performance by Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote the film. We’re supposed to like Shaun and identify with him and we do. Pegg’s great. Nick Frost, as Ed, is a great supporting actor—goofy yet sincere at the same time.

You’d get what you’d expect in “Shaun of the Dead” but you’d also get more. The movie never steers wrong. It’s hilarious, good-looking, and well-acted—did you ever think a zombie movie could contain all three of those adjectives?

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