Review: Shaun Of The Dead

Shaun of the Dead, "the original rom-zom-com", is not entirely unlike Spaced.

Mild spoilers follow.

Shaun's life is going badly downhill. He's 29, a Londoner, and trapped in a dead-end job selling televisions in a high street electrical store; he hates his stepfather (Bill Nighy); his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has just left him because his idea of a romantic restaurant is the local pub, the Winchester; and everyone he knows is repulsed by his slobbish best mate, Ed (Nick Frost).

Videogame: Player Two has joined the game.
Ed: Don't you have work?
Videogame: Player Two has left the game.

Meanwhile, it's fairly clear something else is happening in north London. TV news reports are chattering about something important which can't quite be picked out because people keep changing the channel. Pedestrians are coughing and behaving strangely. Men in white masks are rushing backwards and forwards. Large trucks are rumbling by in the background. The car alarms never seem to stop...

Pete: You're an idiot!
Ed: What's that supposed to mean?!

Shaun is apparently oblivious to all of this. In one of the film's most hilarious scenes, he walks past at least eight zombies and two dead bodies without noticing that anything is out of the ordinary. He and Ed finally figure out that something strange is going on when they find a random girl in their back garden. They take her unhealthy complexion and dire inability to stand up straight to indicate that she's drunk... until she falls backwards and impales herself on a lead pipe - then gets up again and starts trying to attack them through their window.

Ed: Any zombies out there?
Shaun: Don't say that!
Ed: What?
Shaun: That!
Ed: What?
Shaun: The Z word!
Ed: Why?
Shaun: Because it's ridiculous!
Ed: Are there any, though?
Shaun: No. [camera shows Shaun's point of view through the letterbox] It's like they've all disappeared... [camera pans right a bit] Oh, wait, there they are.

Discovering the unkillable, hell-spawned truth - that the recently deceased are coming back and attacking the living, and that both Shaun's stepfather AND their other roommate, Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) have been bitten by them - Shaun formulates a plan. Disregarding TV orders to stay inside and wait for help, he decides to round up all his loved ones so they can barricade themselves in the Winchester.

Shaun: Take car, go to mum's, kill Phil, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over, how's that for a slice of fried gold?

Can Shaun save his mum? Can he get his girlfriend back? Does the Winchester rifle kept over the bar at the Winchester pub actually work? Can dogs look up?

Find out...

Shaun of the Dead was released in UK cinemas on April 9, 2004. It's rated 15 for swearing and a not-inconsiderable amount of disembowelling. It is due to be released in America on September 24, 2004.

Thoughts

If you appreciate Spaced-style "impossible to describe to people who weren't watching it with you" humour then you will get a kick out of the first half of this movie. Towards the latter half, the situation becomes really desperate and things suddenly become very serious, which was kind of jarring, and made it difficult to take the major plot twists (and the fact that there's a romantic comedy going on behind all this) seriously. But even that wasn't as jarring as the rather too rapid and slightly unsatisfactory (although funny) epilogue.

[zombies are attacking through the front door of the Winchester]
Shaun: We're closed! [opens fire]
[the gun clicks uselessly - he squeals]

Giving a no-nonsense British spin to the whole living dead scenario really worked - especially having recognisable British newsreaders such as Krishnan Guru-Murthy reporting the nightmare on the television. I liked that Shaun goes from a loser salesman to a natural born zombie-killer - it's a When the aliens attack my workplace, I'm going to be so damn READY-type transition which appealed to me as a videogamer. It makes a change from the traditional American gung-ho action hero. Another nice touch was that Shaun and Ed are playing (the PS2 version of) Timesplitters 2 and - although you're not told, you can tell by the sound effects coming from the game - they pause it to talk to each other. (This is not to mention that they are playing on a level which features zombies.)

Shaun vs. Spaced

Lots of familiar ground here. Both are directed by Edgar Wright, and feature Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jessica Stevenson, Peter Serafinowicz (better known as the voice of Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace), and in a brief cameo which I missed, Michael Smiley as one of the zombies. (He was Tyres in Spaced). The film isn't the medley of overt pop culture references that Spaced was, but it does have a few subtler ones. The whole movie is also clearly extrapolated from (Dawn of the Dead, many other zombie films, and) the episode of Spaced in which Tim (Simon Pegg), having played far too much Resident Evil, becomes convinced that zombies have taken over and starts re-enacting cutscenes from the game.

Overall I give the movie 7/10 - most folks I've spoken to would award it 8. While it's not perfect, and while it doesn't completely fill the gap Spaced left in our hearts, it's funny and certainly worth seeing.

Interesting trivia

Although the source of the zombie infection is never explicitly stated, listen very carefully to the news fragments in the opening ten minutes and you might just be able to pick out what actually happened - a re-entry vehicle exploded over southeast England. malcster says this is a reference to George Romero's original zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead, in which the same thing happens. ConfusionTheWaitress adds that another reporter later debunks the theory that the infection was spread by monkeys - which is what happens in 28 Days Later, another zombie movie.

Sources: the IMDb, the TV series Spaced (note: if you liked Shaun of the Dead, you WILL like Spaced), the official Shaun of the Dead website

quotes are from memory and I've only seen the film once, so please excuse any inaccuracies

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