Shaun of the Dead (2004)

220px-Shaun-of-the-deadImagine that, it took me until after I finished the film to realize that its title was an obvious homage to Dawn of the Dead. And why not, because this comedy-zombie film celebrates the genre and George Romero’s lineage, while also carving out its own little niche. Really, this first installment from Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright is brilliantly clever in its own right.

What I’ve come to recognize from their partnership is that they are all for the gags, the gore, and excitement, but they also have a handle on emotional impact. The worlds they build through script and character are certainly fun and engaging. I’m not even a big fan of zombie films, but this is probably one of my favorites and that’s because it’s more than just a superficial apocalyptic romp. Heaven forbid I actually care for these characters, but I do. Even Nick Frost, who is oftentimes a real idiot, but even he still finds ways to endear himself.

Simon Pegg goes through your typical hero’s journey, it’s just that it involves a lot of zombies. He begins as a washed-up assistant manager in a dead end job, with a romantic relationship that he’s really messing up. His girlfriend isn’t too happy with him as of late, and after 17 years he’s still at odds with his step-father (Bill Nighy). Meanwhile, his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) is making a nuisance of himself, playing video games and doing little else. It’s a real humdrum life that Shaun’s partaking of. You can see it in his demeanor, even his posture. If you didn’t know any better you’d think he’s a zombie or something. It’s true that Pegg and Wright have fun with a few gags like this, and even when the zombies take over the streets, Shaun hardly seems to notice. He’s so far gone in his own personal funk.

But in his case, a zombie apocalypse is just what he needs to kick-start his life again. He gains new meaning, asserts himself, and acknowledges how much he cares about those around him. He also gets to bash rows of zombies with a cricket bat and blow them up with a Winchester rifle for good measure, while saving his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), so that’s a major bonus.

Edgar Wright’s style is very dynamic and in your face, but within all the hubbub there are real moments of sincerity that elevate Shaun of the Dead not just above a lot of other zombie movies, but a lot of movies in general. Forget simply a zombie flick. This is a romance, a buddy film, and a redemption story all wrapped up into one. Simon Pegg proves himself as a leading man, who we would willingly follow during an apocalypse, especially given the other choices at hand.

4/5 Stars

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