Shaun of the Dead

“Kill the Queen.”

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are clearly big fans of movies and, with two under their sleeves and also a TV series that I’ve never seen, they’ve demonstrated themselves capable of working across several genres.

In my efforts to become less lazy about watching my DVDs, I finally cracked out Shaun of the Dead in honour of Hot Fuzz turning out so well. Shaun of the Dead is truly the ultimate in rom zom coms!

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is living a dead end existence and his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield) gives him one last chance. Naturally, he blows it. The next day, England becomes subject to a full scale zombie epidemic (or ZOMBIE EPIDEMIC, as the copy on my DVD assures me) … and Shaun decides that he has to prove himself to Liz by rescuing her from her home and delivering her to safety, with the assistance of his waster of a flatmate, Ed (Nick Frost).

Pegg says that and Wright didn’t want to “take the mickey” out of the zombie genre, so this is a comedy movie that has zombies in it … or a zombie movie with jokes. I’m not sure, it doesn’t really matter all that much. I’ve never been a fan of movies with gore in them, and so it has taken some effort to get me anywhere near zombies. Shaun of the Dead‘s light but serious touch is an excellent introduction to th
e genre.

It goes hand in hand for me with Dead Rising, although that phenomenon is different: video games, unlike movies, allow you to have some control over the outcome. Unless something really sadistic is going on in the minds of the programmers (I’m looking at you, Japan), you can get yourself out of horrible situations. You can save the other survivors and you feel bad if you don’t.

Watching a zombie movie is more passive: any of these people can be torn apart, and there’s not a dang thing you can do about it. A movie should at least try to make you feel something for its characters, although as part of a larger field devoted to presenting stupid teenagers getting killed for being stupid, this is generally not as issue.
Shaun of the Dead lets you into the lives of these characters, hilariously cast to type. At one point, Shaun runs into another group of survivors, each of whom is an analogue for one of the members of his own group (and each of whom is a British comedian or actor who makes you smile just to look at).
The aspect of this movie that struck me the most was that I became emotionally invested in it. I didn’t feel that any of the characters were expendable (not quite true: I had no love for Dylan Moran’s David, and I love Dylan Moran), and every time someone got taken it was distressing.
What Pegg and Wright understand is that humanity is not something that movies should be devoid of. Everything counts, and everyone is at least a little bit real. Even the obvious sentimental moments aren’t too ridiculously sentimental, because people most likely would get a little bit emotional when they’re on the verge of turning into zombies. It’s not a theory that I’d like to test, but it’s a theory that I think is fairly accurate.

Shaun of the Dead is a comedy that’s not afraid to show drama, and not like the pansy artificial “your criminal ex-boyfriend has come back … with a gun!” drama shoehorned into many comedies of the early nineties, either. If I were to write a really lame, pithy bit of copy to go on a DVD box for this movie, it would read something like this:

Shaun of the Dead has got laughs, it’s got heart, it’s got brains, it’s got bite.”

I’ll collect my Pulitzer now.

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