On the tenth day of Halloween, Simon Pegg gave to me: Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
Switching gears, today’s review starts my next series of write-ups: horror comedies! While unlikely bedfellows, screams and laughter go hand-in-hand in these movies. This genre is the best of both worlds, and provides you with giggles and gore in equal measure.
To start this series, I’ve chosen the immensely popular Shaun of the Dead, the first of the comedic Cornetto Trilogy. This movie is beloved for good reason. Shaun of the Dead is a zombie-comedy that somehow manages to pack in honest satire with genuinely compelling characters; a tough feat by anyone’s standards.
As always, a brief summary:
Dopey- but-tries-hard Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his manchild roommate Ed (Nick Frost) must put the mundane struggles of everyday living to the side as the zombie apocalypse falls over London. Deciding to hole up in the Winchester Pub, the group of awkward twenty-somethings not only have to survive the night, but each other.
being a twentysomething: the real horror
Zombies have always been imbued with meaning: they’re the mindless consumers, the brain-dead tech monsters, the consequence of unchecked scientific growth. While they can certainly function merely as monsters, they are often used to engage in a deeper dialogue about some major facet of society.
While the academic in me loves this, it can often make for some very didactic, preachy, horror (read: boring). Horror can most certainly be serious and deliver a message, but it has to be done skillfully. And while Shaun of the Dead isn’t quite a Movie with a Message, it beautifully balances satirical elements with a set of genuinely compelling characters to create a ridiculously funny, poignant film.
The first bit of Shaun of the Dead is probably the scariest part of the movie: it’s all about the quiet horror of everyday life. Shaun is 29 years old, in a dead-end job, a stagnant relationship, and stuck in a mind-numbing daily routine. The scariest things in his world are stepparents, of missed anniversaries: and it’s filmed as such. Picking up a phone, brushing your teeth- all of these shots are characterized by dramatic zooms, quick cuts, and loud booms. The cinematography is comically out-of-place, but the dissonance between the style and the content makes its point: modern life has made Shaun a “zombie” long before the virus hit.
Shaun is so wrapped up in his own mundane issues that the warning signs of the apocalypse are entirely ignored: it’s literally only when a zombie walks into his living room that he realizes that maybe something is wrong.
But the social commentary presented in Shaun of the Dead is matched by a lovable protagonist and a surprisingly heartfelt plot. Shaun isn’t the most adept of heroes, but he is earnest and good-hearted, and genuinely wants to make things right with the people in his life. He also loses most of his family within the course of a day, and the film doesn’t try to cheapen that for laughs. There are some authentically emotional moments in Shaun of the Dead, which rounds out the film.
Of course, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are brilliant comedic actors, and their repartee is central to the film. But the entire cast is talented, and the writing as a whole is strong throughout the whole film. And as always,the movie is dripping in classic rock ,pop culture references, and is littered with Easter eggs.
What could be done better
Ed drops the n-word. I get that Ed is characterized as constantly-inappropriate manchild, but it was still in poor taste.Like, your cast is already entirely white, which is an issue in and of itself (in this movie and film at large). Let’s not make this worse.
Take that as you will
Shaun of the Dead is entertaining as hell, and manages to combine zombies, mid-life crises, and genuine heart in a funky, well-crafted way. It’s the perfect “compromise” movie, because it has something to offer for almost any viewer. There’s enough in here to appease die-hard genre fans, while tempered enough by comedy and drama to appeal to people who aren’t as into horror.
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