SHAUN OF THE DEAD (REVIEW)
Dir. Edgar Wright
Reviewer. Dan Cook
One of the most beloved British movies of the past 20 years, Edgar Wright’s rom-zom-com is a bloody hilarious pastiche of horror movies that never fails to impress and entertain in equal measure. An affectionate tribute to the films of George A. Romero, ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ revels in the expected gruesomeness and gore expected of the classic zombie movie but it also manages to subvert many of the sub genres cliches and conventions with a foul mouth, a dry wit and a brilliantly energetic editing and directorial style from Edgar Wright.
Set in a zombie infested London, the film follows the mundane life of the titular Shaun (Simon Pegg), an electronic good salesman and general layabout who, with the help of his lazy yet lovable friend Ed (Nick Frost) attempts to ride out the apocalypse into the safest place he knows - his local pub, The Winchester. Armed with only a cricket bat, Shaun risks his skin to save the lives of those he both loves and hates and bring them to The Winchester to eat snacks, drink beer and survive the hoard of the ravenous undead scratching at their door.
From its suitably doomy opening scenes of increasing chaos to its spectacular finale, ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ looks and sounds very much like a typical zombie movie. People are ripped to pieces, heads are bludgeoned, bones are cracked and characters die at the most unexpected moments. Those expecting a more tame horror picture will be somewhat shocked by the gory on screen violence. I know I was when as a 12 year old, I was horrified by a scene in which one character is brutally eviscerated and torn limb from limb in gruesome, unflinching close-up. ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ is certainly not a scary movie but it is a bloody one nonetheless and while funny, it’s certainly not suitable for younger audiences or those who don’t cope well with the sight of exposed intestines.
However, for the rest of us horror fans, there is just so much to love about ‘Shaun Of The Dead’. From its incredibly quotable and immensely smart script that balances the triple whammy of horror, heart and humour, to its cast of odd yet likeable characters to its multitude of subtle references to zombie movies of old, it’s a relentlessly riotous watch that just gets better and funnier with each watch. So many of its jokes are now a part of the collective cultural psyche (“You’ve got red on you!”) and while some predictably haven’t aged quite as well, the majority of the gags in ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ hit hard thanks in most part to the performances from the great British cast which also includes ‘The Office’s Lucy Davis, Kate Ashfield, comedians Dylan Moran and Peter Serafinowicz, acting legend Penelope Wilton and the always wonderful Bill Nighy who steals the show with his brief yet memorable appearance as Shaun’s grouchy yet endearing stepfather.
But of course, it’s the titular Shaun and his bumbling best mate Ed who are the unequivocal stars of the show. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are a perfect double act and their obvious on and off screen chemistry and their hilarious interactions form much of the films formidable comedic backbone. Whether they’re assaulting zombies with records, enjoying a pint in their local or unconvincingly shambling through a mass of the undead, every single moment with them together is a joy to watch. It’s no surprise that after the phenomenal commercial success of ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ Pegg and Frost would work together over the following years in projects such as ‘Paul’, ‘The Adventures of TinTin’ and, most notably, ‘Hot Fuzz’ and ‘The Worlds End’, the other two films in Edgar Wright’s disparate “Cornetto Trilogy”. However, ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ showcases them at their very best and it is their two central performances that bring me back to the movie time and time again.
Nominated for two BAFTA’s, earning over 5 times its budget and making overnight stars of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ is one of the finest artistic achievements ever to have come out of the modern British cinema. Its success would spawn its own imitators such as ‘Shed Of The Dead’ and ‘Juan Of The Dead’ and even George A. Romero, the man who inspired it all, would go on to call it one of the greatest zombie movies ever made, going so far as to cast Pegg and Wright as zombies in his middling 2005 picture ‘Land Of The Dead’. The crown for the best British horror comedy is a prize with many worthy contenders; Gerald Thomas’ ‘Carry On Screaming’ (1966), John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London’ (1980) Ben Wheatley’s ‘Sightseers’ (2011) and James Whales’ ‘The Old Dark House’ (1932) to name just a few. ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ is most definitely among them and I’m sure in the eyes of many, it’s the undoubtable winner. Plus, it has the best use of a Queen song in any film, ever.