Shaun of the Dead, 2004.
Directed by Edgar Wright.
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton.
After being dumped by his girlfriend, slacker Shaun resolves to finally sort his life and do whatever it takes to win her back. Unluckily for Shaun, his romantic endeavour happens to coincide with a zombie uprising.
Happy Halloween, Everybody!!!! After yet another long October spotlighting all things horror, we’ve sadly (or gladly if you hate me) reached the end of the line for another year. We’ve looked at all sorts of horrors this month, from cinema dwelling demons, puberty induced werewolves, movie-obsessed killers, sinister goats and sadly, for the final time, Dr Hannibal Lecter. After another tough but slightly better year, I’ve once more decided to end this month with something fun, funny and just plain awesome; the zombie-infested romantic comedy classic Shaun of the Dead.
Directed by Edgar Wright, Shaun of the Dead sees the British cinematic wunderkind unload his trademark bag of tricks. The quick cut whooshing transitions making mundane activities like making a cup of tea or nipping to the loo seem dramatic and purposeful. The litany of pop culture references that appeal to genre nerds and non-nerds alike. And his masterfully creative use of music, such as a particular Queen song, turning possibly humorous moments into iconic comedy gold. While not his directorial debut, Shaun of the Dead announces Wright as a director of masterful talent, and it has been a joy to see him flourish and a damn shame that Marvel didn’t just let him do whatever he wanted with Ant-Man.
Co-written by Wright and leading man Simon Pegg the script is a perfect melding of a zombie apocalypse horror with an early 2000s Richard Curtis-Esque romantic comedy. I’m just saying Love Actually would have been a much better film if it had zombies. It did have Rick Grimes. The plight of Shaun’s battle to win back his girlfriend Liz is a relatable one, filled with pathos, humour, and more than a little toe-curling humiliation as Shaun’s lack of ambition and regular screw-ups drive the two apart. The zombie plot is handled well, Wright and Pegg’s script balancing the horror elements with the humour, rarely letting one overpower the other, with the rising of the dead serves as a surprisingly effective complement to a couple trying to work through their issues. The tonal melding of horror and comedy is perhaps best exemplified in the masterful tracking shot following a hungover Shaun on the morning the dead have risen. Following him walking to the shop, zombies slowly bearing down on him as the tempo of creepy score quickens. All the while, the silly bastard just trots to his shop, grabs his drink and walks home like any other day, barely noticing that the literal apocalypse is upon us. While the tone does darken towards the climax as things grow bleaker, by this point, the film had me in the palm of its hand, with the shift in tone never once feeling forced or unnatural. That and it still has more than a few hilarious moments, such as the return of Shaun and Ed’s grumpy zombified (and nude) flatmate Pete, much to their surprise.
The dialogue is sharp, often coarse, but always funny. The banter between Shaun and his best friend Ed often features some of the best exchanges as they regularly ignore the zombies to tear into each other like a bickering couple. The various comic set pieces are hilarious, combing a terrifying situation with a mundane argument. Such as when they should be screaming in terror and fighting for survival, Shaun and Ed instead argue about which records they can sacrifice when trying to kill a pair of attacking zombies. Or how a clever plan to sneak through a zombie horde by “playing undead” falls apart as Ed and Shaun decide to have an almighty row at maximum volume in front of everyone. I especially like how it seems like the zombies are patiently waiting for them to finish their argument before attacking.
The cast is pitch-perfect without a single weak link among them and all game for the increasingly gruesome escapades the characters find themselves in. Simon Pegg’s performance as the titular Shaun is brilliant. The actor and co-writer managing to make the character’s transformation from an aimless loser into zombie bashing action hero seem oddly believable, with Pegg playing the role with goofy charm and a likeable streak that has you rooting for him from the beginning. Nick Frost damn near steals the film as Ed, Shaun’s lazy couch dwelling friend. Frost’s impression of Clyde the Orangutan is an obvious highlight, but I personally found his obvious infatuation with Shaun’s mum making for some of his funniest moments, particularly his declaration that “she’s like butter”.
The supporting cast is also great, especially Irish comedian Dylan Moran’s wonderfully loathsome David, your prototypical zombie film idiot who complains about the heroes plans but never proposes one of his own. And while he isn’t a chartered accountant, he does look like one. He’s also a twat. Kudos also have to go to Bill Nighy’s pitch-perfect performance as Shaun’s hated stepdad Phillip, Nighy’s clipped delivery and cold demeanour making him come across as far more sinister than even the zombies.
I think this has been the hardest review I’ve had to write all month. I’ve had to really fight to fill this review with descriptions of what makes Shaun of the Dead so brilliant without simply writing a transcription of the whole damn film. What I’m trying (and, probably, failing) to say is; just go and watch the fucking thing already. A beautifully crafted love letter to the zombie genre and packed to the gills with laughs, horror and heart, Shaun of the Dead is, quite simply, the perfect film to watch this Halloween as we move ever nearer to something resembling normality.
Whether you’ve read all 31 reviews this month or simply this one, thanks once more for joining me for another month-long look at all things horror. While this year has been somewhat better than last year, many of you may still be struggling, so I hope these reviews have at least provided a helpful distraction. Till next year hopefully (unless my flickering overlords finally come to their senses and fire me), have a very safe and happy Halloween.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★