Shaun of the Dead
English Title: Shaun of the Dead
Country of Origin: Britain
Studio: Universal, Studio Canal, Working Title/United International Pictures
Director: Edgar Wright
Producer(s): Nira Park
Cinematographer: David M Dunlap
Editor: Chris Dickens
Runtime: 99 minutes
Shaun has a dull retail job in North London. While his girlfriend is unhappy about all the time they spend in their local pub, The Winchester, his flatmate Pete complains about the behaviour of Shaun’s slobbish friend Ed. When Liz dumps Shaun, he and Ed enjoy a raucous, drunken night. They are oblivious to a developing zombie outbreak until the next morning, when they are menaced by the undead in their back garden. Escaping from Pete, who has become a zombie, they pick up Shaun's mother, Liz and her friends, but have to abandon Shaun's infected stepfather Philip. After several close encounters with the undead masses they reach the Winchester, only to find it surrounded by zombies. Eventually, barricaded inside, they prepare to fight for their lives.
Shaun of the Dead, billed as a ‘A Romantic Comedy, With Zombies’, was part of the early twenty-first century new wave of British horror films, which included 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002) and Dog Soldiers (Neil Marshall, 2002). The film shares the 'fanboy slacker' spirit of the Channel 4 television sitcom Spaced, also directed by Edgar Wright, and written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson (who has a cameo role here).
The film achieves a strong sense of place, its North London suburban locale providing a suitably mundane setting for Shaun’s humdrum life and the slowly-developing spectacle of the zombie menace. The opening scenes suggest that Shaun is sleepwalking through his own life – his robotic morning visit to the corner store is replayed for comic effort when he fails to notice how the world has changed overnight, as he misses the bloody handprints on the shop’s fridge door. This uncanny quality is central to the zombie genre and provides much of the film’s humour. In their first encounter with a zombie – a dishevelled girl found staggering about the back garden – Shaun and Ed assume she is drunk, and, then, that she is making sexual advances. This laddish humour is followed by a knowingly-geeky address to the audience when, on discovering that records make good missiles, they begin to bicker over the merits of Shaun’s vinyl collection. But the sequence becomes increasingly graphic and gory, representing a shift in the film’s tone from comedy to horror.
Shaun of the Dead is in many ways a 'buddy movie', with the relationship between Shaun (Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) at its core. Although Shaun’s ostensible quest is to protect his girlfriend Lizzie, the film is more concerned with male friendship. Indeed, the standard narrative trajectory of maturing is rejected: rather than Shaun accepting the need to grow up and join the adult world, Lizzie is incorporated into his homosocial environment of pubs, computer games and puerile jokes. While the romantic storyline is quite superficially handled, there is a surprising Freudian intensity to Shaun’s relationship with his mother. His fantasy of executing his infected stepfather is replayed with relish, and there is a disruptive emotional depth to the scene where he has to kill his mother after she has been bitten.
Wright’s signature visual style, established in Spaced, employs a comic hyperbole, playing on a deliberate disjunction between the emphatic swish pans and strident chords of action cinema and his own prosaic settings and characters. Similarly Pegg’s nerdishness and Frost’s crass blokish persona work to create an inclusive rapport with the audience, which helps the film to negotiate generic boundaries and shifts in tone. Wright’s playful and allusive approach to genre continued in his next film, Hot Fuzz (2007), the second in a planned trilogy. Also starring Pegg and Frost, this combined elements of British horror, notably The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973), with tropes of the Bruckheimer buddy movie.
Author of this review: Adrian Garvey
Peer reviewer: Adrian Garvey