I never watched the TV series Spaced and until this movie had no idea who Simon Pegg was, now I find myself watching rubbish like Run Fatboy, Run and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People just because I see he is in it. Dammit I even watched the Star Trek remake because of him.
But when he teams up with Edgar Wright it seems he can do no wrong.
Shaun of the Dead proudly wears its influences on its bloodied sleeve. A brief Romero-version Dawn of the Dead musical piece actually plays over the first few credits, and references pop up now and then when they can be squeezed in without hurting this film. That is where “Shaun” stands head and shoulders above a myriad of so called parody films, they realise that the key to an enjoyable film isn’t just in how many references you can jam in, but how good the damn film is. The references just add to the rest and give genre fans a nod as if to say “See, we know our shit.”
The titular Shaun (Simon Pegg) represents basically about half of mid 20s guys at as they approach a key life-decision, usually resenting doing so, (I know I did). That decision is succinctly relayed to Shaun midway through the film by a disgruntled flatmate in no uncertain fashion, “Sort your fucking life out Mate!”.
Shaun is a pretty sharp guy in a dead end job, with a dead end best mate monopolising the couch and telly at home, and with a dead end relationship with Liz. Only the relationship is worth saving, but Shaun has yet to have that Ping go off in his head, as he continually puts it at risk with half-arsed dates, constant disappointments and generally being a bit of a dick. Again, Shaun represents about half of the mid 20s male population.’
Shaun’s best mate, and his life’s deadweight is Ed (Nick Frost), a slovenly big-boned chap with generally offensive habits, and only Shaun seems amused by him. (The interplay between Shaun and Ed is real as Pegg and Frost are good mates in real life apparently.)
In an early scene Liz, along with her mates David and Di, warn Shaun that he is on his last warning, though it is obvious that has been said before. Shaun promises to be a better boyfriend and probably means it, but it seems as always circumstances conspire to foil his best laid plans, and when one missed call triggers a chain of events that equate to Liz’s “last straw”, he is effectively arsed.
Shaun (and of course Ed) decides getting blind at the local pub called the Winchester is the answer, and oblivious to all around them Shaun and Ed spend a loooooong night on the piss, culminating in a very early AM meeting with Pete, the “responsible lad” flatmate that gives Shaun the wake-up call mentioned earlier.
Bleary eyed and exhausted, Shaun goes about his standard business the next morning, ignoring the clues that everything is awry that are by now very overt. He decides today is the day everything gets turned around, he’ll get Liz back and promises to himself that he will remember to go to dinner to see his Mum and Stepdad, having missed the date many times before, only…
Ed points out the presence of a girl in the garden outside their flat, the girl is pasty, slow moving and basically a little off-colour.
Long story short: ZOMBIES!!!!
Like a funnier From Dusk Till Dawn SOTD moves into new territory from this point. Shaun and Ed spend a little time coming to grips with this admittedly understandably unexpected development, and along with Ed, Liz & friends and Mum and Stepdad Phillip they team up to find sanctuary, ultimately deciding on the Winchester.
Now this all sounds pretty good, and it really is, but the plot of SOTD isn’t what elevates this into upper echelon of films made in the 2000s. It is the subtle touches that turn this from an amusing genre-mishmash into a modern day classic. These include several call-backs to earlier scenes and moments in the film, only with different outcomes due to the new presence of the undead horde outside.
There are brilliant “3 second montages” that keep the film moving at great pace and effectively fast forward proceedings. Example: The period between awakening and leaving for work is shown like this:
Each image gets maybe half a second, the audience immediately knows what is happening and accepts that we are now ready to follow Shaun to work. These montages are used through the film to great effect.
I have drastically summarized the second half of the film of course, but describing the zombie escape is largely pointless, as this is not a standard zombie film. There are some gory bits though, and the effects are pretty realistic when they do arrive, but this is mostly played for comic effect and so most of the zombie encounters conclude with amusing means of evasion or dispatching the undead.
The characters are all well portrayed, Liz is very realistic as someone just out of Shaun’s league, enough so that he really wants to patch things up, David and Di are suitably wankerish and dithery respectively that you can understand fully why Shaun isn’t a fan of either, and Shaun’s Mum and Stepdad are nice enough to love, but painful enough for him to want to limit his exposure to them.
And of course Ed is basically the mate that Shaun knows too well to turf, even though he knows it is in his best interest to do so. A lazy, shiftless, responsibility dodging layabout that will continue to leech off Shaun, setting them both back.
Shaun of the Dead is a brilliant satire, but if it didn’t have zombies in it it would still be a brilliant comedy, and if it didn’t have jokes it would be an above average horror-action flick. Every aspect of the film elevates the rest, and when considered in its entirety Shaun of the Dead is simply an outstanding film on so many levels it isn’t (but in this case it is. Very.) funny.
Final Rating – 8.5 / 10. Movies like this and Hot Fuzz are why I buy DVDs, and why I trawl the net like a prospector looking for gold. They are rare but worth the efforts when you manage to find one.
I just want Pegg and Wright to churn one of these out a year in perpetuity, surely that isn’t much to ask?