“Just look at the face: it’s vacant, with a hint of sadness. Like a drunk who’s lost a bet.”
We live in a world today where there are well-written zombie serial dramas, successful zombie action movie franchises, and even zombie romantic comedies. It’s easy to forget that, for a long time, zombies were only a cult hit—they were not exceedingly popular, even when they had a commercial success. But when Resident Evil brought traditional action to zombie movies in 2002 and 28 Days Later brought smart writing to zombie movies in 2003, the stage was set for zombies to move into the spotlight. In 2004, Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World) co-wrote and directed the first mainstream zombie comedy movie, Shaun of the Dead, starring Simon Pegg. Bear in mind, I’m watching this just after binge-watching six seasons of The Walking Dead. Does it hold up 12 years later? I think so.
Shaun of the Dead follows Shaun, a washed-up man who works at an appliance store and spends every night at the same pub in London, as his life starts to fall apart at the same time the world starts to fall apart. Shaun devises a plan to save himself, his flatmate, his mom, and his ex-girlfriend. It’s a simple plot, really. This isn’t a brilliant story. The brilliance is in how closely it follows, and parodies, zombie movie conventions.
Lizzy, how can you put your faith in a man you spectacularly binned for being unreliable? A man whose idea of a romantic nightspot and an impenetrable fortress are the same thing? This is a pub! We are in a pub!
Shaun of the Dead abides by the rules set by other zombie movies, but the bumbling characters can’t seem to get a firm handle on those rules. This leads to some entertaining situations, like when Shaun and Ed try to decapitate zombies by throwing records, but only the records Shaun no longer wants. Zombie expertise is not a prerequisite for getting the jokes in this movie, but the gags will probably be funnier if you are. The hilariously inappropriate and incompetent responses to the threats around the main characters will be obvious to anyone, though.
As an independent film, Shaun of the Dead comes with a few missteps and a few unexpected successes. The two co-writers had very little movie-writing experience between them, and director Edgar Wright had very little movie-directing experience, so the film isn’t quite as polished as big-budget Hollywood films. But the tone of this movie is delightfully different: dark, biting, and irreverent. American audiences will probably find the British roots of the movie to be a refreshing change as well. Despite its flaws, Shaun of the Dead stands out for its offbeat humor and willingness to make a mockery of zombie horror.
If you’re a fan of zombies or quirky British dark comedies, Shaun of the Dead is required viewing. For others, it will be hit or miss. Bear in mind that this is a parody of an entire genre—if you don’t like parodies or you don’t like zombies, it may be harder for you to get into this movie. Overall, though, this is a funny and ultimately trendsetting movie that’s worth watching for most people. It may even be a good introduction to the zombie genre that’s been taking off over the last 15 years. Check it out!
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Director: Edgar Wright
Genres: comedy, horror, indie