Friday, October 26, 2012

Horrorfest Classics—Shaun of the Dead (2004) ***½

Shaun: Simon Pegg
Liz: Kate Ashfield
Ed: Nick Frost
Dianne: Lucy Davis
David: Dylan Moran
Barbara: Penelope Wilton
Pete: Peter Serafinowicz
Philip: Bill Nighy

Rogue Pictures presents a film directed by Edgar Wright. Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. Running time: 99 min. Rated R (for zombie violence/gore and language).

I find it interesting that a movie spoofing the zombie subgenre of horror is largely responsible for the renaissance of the zombie flick. There have almost always been zombie movies. The 1932 cult movie “White Zombie” starring Bela Lugosi is widely considered to be the first zombie movie. The subgenre never really got incredibly popular until George A. Romero laid down the rules of the zombie flick in 1968 with the cult classic “Night of the Living Dead”. One of those rules was that zombies were the perfect vehicles for social commentary.

The horror genre grew in popularity from that point on and with it the zombie flick. Romero continued to add to his creation with “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead”, the former being considered one of the greatest horror films of all time and one of the greatest social commentaries as well. Edgar Wright’s and Simon Pegg’s spoof homage to Romero’s masterpiece is also cleverly a continuation of its ideas. Romero criticized America’s consumerism by setting his movie in a shopping mall. Pegg and Wright take Romero’s concept of the mindless sheep created by such consumerism and place it in modern day London, where everyone has already become zombies in their daily routines before anyone is even turned into an actual zombie.

“Shaun of the Dead” follows a couple days in the life of Shaun, a retail manager who sees people mindlessly plodding through their routines on the bus to work, idiots entering the job force as they remain oblivious to the world around them while they text on their phones, and even falls so far into his own rut that his flatmate can’t stop complaining and his girlfriend dumps him. Shaun is joined in his own pastoral behavior by his best pal Ed, a burnout who spends his days playing video games and not cleaning the apartment, and spends his evenings at the local pub, the Winchester. The greatest concern in their lives is whether the Winchester rifle mounted over the bar actually works or not.

Simon has other problems that have become mundane in our modern times. His stepdad—“He’s not my father!”—has never seemed to like him and he doesn’t care to connect either. He can’t seem to remember simple holidays, like Mother’s Day, or to make reservations at a real restaurant—as opposed to The Winchester—so he can give his girlfriend a proper date.

Simon’s real problem is that he’s content with his existence and has never found cause to make something more of it. That is until a zombie plague begins to turn people into flesh eating monsters. Because of the sheep like existence of modern life it takes a while for anyone to notice that anything has changed. Even once the plague becomes public knowledge, the difference between those infected and the normal people is only a matter of the flesh eating detail. One of the film’s more brilliant moments is when Simon brainstorms that his small group of survivors can traverse a sea of zombies by merely acting like them.

The movie pokes a lot of fun at some of the zombie rules established by Romero. Never have any heroes of zombie movies had as easy a time defeating these creatures in mêlée combat as the heroes do here. And, were talking about a bunch of slackers. While their video gaming skills do help them to identify potential threats before they’re surprised by them, it is the fact that they realize zombies actually hold very few surprises that aids them the most. Zombies are slow moving and can be defeated with a blow to the head. How hard can it be?

Perhaps the greatest success of “Shaun of the Dead”, however, is the fact that it is not only a spoof but also a genuine zombie flick. It has stakes. There are real emotions that the characters must deal with despite cracking wise at half the things they’re experiencing. The fates of Simon’s stepdad and mother each require heartfelt sentiment. Simon has a dramatic arc throughout the events of the film ending with legitimate catharsis. When he wins his girlfriend back, it’s earned. And, the fate of Ed is nothing short of brilliant.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a film that adds value to the zombie feature canon. It mocks what it loves in the way we all do in our lives. It uses humor to avoid emotional outbreak until it no longer can. It stays true to the traditions of zombie movies, from the classic detail of keeping the zombies slow-moving, mindless threats of our own impending deaths, as well as continuing Romero’s notions of horror as social commentary. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You might even tinkle in your pants a little.


Jimh. said...

It's one of my favorites!

Andrew Wells said...

I would've bet money on that Jim. You are Simon Pegg.