Dir. by Edgar Wright - 1 hr. 39 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
It seems hard to believe that by 2004, there was already some comedy push-back on the idea of zombie movies. I mean, it's hard to believe it considering that the nearly ten years since have seen an explosion of films all offering up their tiny new wrinkle on the concept, to the point where rolling your eyes and sighing exasperatedly at any idea that includes even a mention of zombies is a more-than-reasonable response. Especially considering that "Shaun of the Dead" pretty much nailed whatever needed to be nailed about the scenario (and "Zombieland" took care of the rest). Thankfully, this is less a "zombie movie" than a lot of people's introduction to a Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright/Nick Frost film, which is far more interesting.
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an underachieving pub denizen in London, and the predictability of his routine (along with his nonexistent goals) seem to be the source of friction between himself and pretty much everyone in his life. This includes his flatmate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), and his step-father Philip (Bill Nighy), who all want more out of Shaun, and also feel that he's being dragged down by his loutish friend, Ed (Nick Frost). Aside from the zombie outbreak that seems to happen in the background, Shaun has a terrible day that sees everyone he knows get angry with him. And then, zombies.
"Shaun of the Dead" is a successful film for a lot of reasons. A lot of those reasons are boring, nuts and bolts storytelling stuff (like character arcs, and good characterization), but that foundation holds up some pretty good performances (and good comedy bits). Shaun is a character that everyone feels like they know. At the same time, everyone seems to expect more out of him, and judging by the first act of this film, I'm not sure what basis that opinion was formed on. He doesn't appear very bright, is certainly unmotivated by anything other than routine, and most of his friends just yell at him all the time. His only friend who doesn't yell at him is pretty far from a good influence, and is also content to pass the time cracking wise in a pub.
But also, for something that's billed as a comedy (and is very funny all the way through), there's more of an adventure approach to the story. There's jokes, and physical comedy, but the film isn't paced as a series of gags. "Shaun of the Dead" isn't a film with crackling dialogue and shocking moments, it's about Shaun seeing around him what everyone else has been seeing with Shaun. To Shaun's friends, who have goals and motivations (sort of), seeing Shaun working a dead-end job and killing time at the pub seems like a waste of time and potential. But when the rest of society's normality drops to shambling about, groaning and biting at people, Shaun is finally moved to action to avoid falling into that trap, the same way his friends are motivated by not dropping to Shaun's level.
Because the main character changes over the course of the film, and because this isn't just a series of gags and one-liners, and that there's an actual story being told here, "Shaun of the Dead" holds up pretty well. The humor is built up within the story, and doesn't rely on timeliness or current pop culture material, so what's funny is still funny. "Shaun of the Dead" is really, really funny, even after a handful of viewings, and even after another decade of zombie material being beaten into the ground. It would still be funny if it was released now, that's the hallmark of a good comedy.
4 / 5 - DVD