As I’ve probably already mentioned quite a few times on this blog, Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorite films. By the time I had discovered this film, it was out of theaters and on DVD, so unlike Edgar Wright’s later films, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I had never seen Shaun of the Dead on the big screen. That is, of course, until the amazing event that was Wright Night. It really is a special experience to see one of your favorite movies on the big screen in a beautiful 35mm print at an amazing theater, surrounded by friends and a great audience. Also, it doesn’t hurt when the director of said film is in attendance. I hope my review of Shaun of the Dead doesn’t come off as too gushing, but this is a personal one for me, folks.
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is the ultimate slacker. He is perfectly content to remain in his unambitious retail job and go the the pub for a drink with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) every single night. The monotony is getting to Shaun’s girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), and she demands that they try new things, or else that’ll be the end of their relationship. Shaun’s personal issues only become increasingly important when the zombies began to invade. Now, Shaun is forced to become a leader, bashing zombies’ brains in and saving his loved ones from the living dead. Hey, there’s nothing like a zombie apocalypse to put some spice in your love life, right?
The script, co-written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, is quite brilliant, both in terms of story structure as well as incredibly witty dialogue. The more times I watch Shaun of the Dead, the more I notice how well it is structured. Foreshadowing is used extensively, and often with hilarious results, but that is far from the only example of great writing in Shaun of the Dead. The film uses zombies to make a statement about our culture, where we have become so comfortable in our lives that it is difficult to break out of our daily routines. It also plays with the idea that this monotony has practically made us zombies already. In fact, when the living dead first start appearing in the film, Shaun mistakes them for normal human beings.
The idea that Shaun is stuck in a rut is emphasized in extremely clever ways, many of which add to the humor of the film. Repeat viewings of the film reveal that several lines of dialogue are said twice in the film, as well as conversations/arguments among the characters, such as Danny’s conviction that the Winchester rifle hanging in the pub is active and loaded. Other gags are also repeated, as well as particular shots and bits of music. Every time I watch Shaun of the Dead, I notice more of these subtle jokes and they bring a smile to my face.
As with all of Edgar Wright’s films, Shaun of the Dead has a terrific cast, from the main actors to those in the smallest of supporting roles. Simon Pegg makes one of the most lovable slackers you will ever come across. His transformation into a zombie-killing hero is great fun to watch, and Pegg always lends an air of sincerity to Shaun that makes him very endearing. Pegg and Nick Frost are always a joy to watch together, as they have such terrific chemistry. The two really do seem like best friends. Though Ed is far lazier character than Shaun, with even less ambition, you understand why Shaun is so attached to him.
Shaun of the Dead is far from your average zombie film. As gory as this film is (and believe me it does get incredibly bloody), it is never once scary. In fact, the violence is mostly played for laughs and, in this case, it really works. Humor and violence aside, there are actually quite a few very touching, emotional scenes in Shaun of the Dead. Shaun really does grow as a person, and makes his peace with every character in the film, from his mom, to his step-dad, to his girlfriend. All of these scenes are surprisingly heartfelt and genuine. These moments never seem out of place amid all of the witty dialogue and zombie-killing.
Shaun of the Dead is a film that I appreciate more every time I have watched it (which must be nearly twenty times by now). To me, this is a film that has everything going for it. It is incredibly clever and funny, it makes you think, and even has a few emotionally impacting moments. This is one zombie film that has plenty of heart to go along with its brains (tasty, tasty brains…). It was incredibly special experience seeing Shaun of the Dead on the big screen, and I am very grateful to Edgar Wright for being there for his fans.
My least favorite movie villain is, and always has been, the zombie. They’re only dangerous in large numbers, they’re extremely slow, and they can easily be killed by taking out the brain. While many other films try to make the threat of zombies scary, Shaun of the Dead knows that the only way to play off zombies as a threat is to make a comedy about a group of unlikely survivors. Perhaps this is why Edgar Wright’s first feature film works so extremely well.
This was the first film in which Simon Pegg and Nick Frost played off of each other as a duo, though they both starred in the television show Spaced, which was directed by Edgar Wright as well. Thusly, they already had wonderful chemistry which would only improve over time. Pegg’s girlfriend, played by Kate Ashfield, is good, and would have been nice to see her in Wright’s other films. Alas, she was only in Shaun of the Dead, which is a shame. Of course, playing Shaun’s step-father was Bill Nighy, who’s always wonderful in every roll he’s is. Again, Wright prides himself on his ensembles, and this is another example of why.
While none of the characters in this film are particularly likable, such as Frost’s Ed, they all have their shining moments. For instance, Ed’s is his constant chatter about the rifle hanging at the Winchester. Seperately, none of the characters would create a good film, but together they make something special. While it may be the actor’s chemistry, it’s more than likely the writing. Pegg and Wright penned the screenplay, and like Hot Fuzz which he made after, there are a lot of call-backs, inside jokes, and foreshadowing that only the most skilled screenwriters can do well.
This film, as funny and as entertaining as it is, isn’t perfect though. The credit sequence in the begging is borderline awful, and some of the humor involving Pegg’s girlfriend and her friends falls flat. Their stupidity gets annoying after a short while, and their resolution is rightly deserved. Also, there are a couple more emotional scenes which stick out like a sore thumb to me. I don’t know why they don’t work for me. They just don’t. That being said, this is still a great film.
Shaun of the Dead is not my favorite Edgar Wright film, but it’s not my least favorite either. I find it is his most okay film. It’s funny and well-written, but there’s nothing too special. The chemistry between actors is wonderful, and those who like zombie films will certainly love this one. I’m just hoping Wright’s films get better and never fall back down to this film’s quality.
I know it is absurd to debate the rules of a reality that does not exist, but this genuinely irks me. You cannot kill a vampire with an MDF stake; werewolves can’t fly; zombies do not run. It’s a misconception, a bastardisation that diminishes a classic movie monster. The best phantasmagoria uses reality to render the inconceivable conceivable. The speedy zombie seems implausible to me, even within the fantastic realm it inhabits. A biological agent, I’ll buy. Some sort of super-virus? Sure, why not. But death? Death is a disability, not a superpower. It’s hard to run with a cold, let alone the most debilitating malady of them all.
More significantly, the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety. As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.
However (and herein lies the sublime artfulness of the slow zombie), their ineptitude actually makes them avoidable, at least for a while. If you’re careful, if you keep your wits about you, you can stave them off, even outstrip them - much as we strive to outstrip death. Drink less, cut out red meat, exercise, practice safe sex; these are our shotguns, our cricket bats, our farmhouses, our shopping malls. However, none of these things fully insulates us from the creeping dread that something so witless, so elemental may yet catch us unawares - the drunk driver, the cancer sleeping in the double helix, the legless ghoul dragging itself through the darkness towards our ankles.
Another thing: speed simplifies the zombie, clarifying the threat and reducing any response to an emotional reflex. It’s the difference between someone shouting “Boo!” and hearing the sound of the floorboards creaking in an upstairs room: a quick thrill at the expense of a more profound sense of dread. The absence of rage or aggression in slow zombies makes them oddly sympathetic, a detail that enabled Romero to project depth on to their blankness, to create tragic anti-heroes; his were figures to be pitied, empathised with, even rooted for. The moment they appear angry or petulant, the second they emit furious velociraptor screeches (as opposed to the correct mournful moans of longing), they cease to possess any ambiguity. They are simply mean.
Simon Pegg on why the undead should never be allowed to run.
OK, I know this is a few years old & kind of long for a quote, but I have been thinking about this a lot for something that I’ve been writing. I really like when zombies are slow, but I generally don’t find the slow zombie to be that scary. I mean sure dead people coming to life is scary, but in the movie context of things I’m talking about. Think Shaun of the Dead or the original Dawn of the Dead ‘78. When slow zombies corner someone or there are a lot of them and there is almost no way to escape then and maybe only then do I find them scary. Slow zombies also give you more hope of escape. I think fast zombies (or those as Pegg say with a virus) are just much scarier. Think Dawn of the Dead ‘04 or 28 Days Later. The chance of survival and hope diminishes greatly with fast zombies and I find that terrifying.
Now here’s the point of this whole thing: Which do you prefer? Fast or slow zombies? And why?
Only Queen can make a zombie fighting scene even more kick-ass
RIP Freddie Mercury, we all miss you very much
*video is not mine
Second best part of the movie, they’re beating up a zombie in time… so great!
I enjoy making T-shirts. B.
- Many of the Zombie extras are fans of the TV series Spaced, which also starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and was also directed by Edgar Wright. They were recruited through the ‘Spaced Out’ fan website to be in the film.
- Shaun works at Foree Electronics. Ken Foree was one of the stars of Dawn of the Dead (1978).
- At one point, Ed warns Shaun’s mum: We’re coming to get you, Barbara. This line is a reference to a line from the beginning of George Romero’s seminal zombie movie Night of the Living Dead.
- The game that Ed is playing throughout the movie is Timesplitters 2. The Timesplitters themselves are dimension-hopping zombies.
- At the end of the film, as Shaun flicks through TV channels, a voice can be heard saying that claims that ‘the epidemic was due to rage infected monkeys have now been dismissed as b..’ Liz turns off before the voice can finish the sentence. The voice is referencing 28 Days Later… (2002), another British zombie movie.
More under the cut!