top of page
  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Shaun of the Dead" (2004)

My girlfriend and I have had an argument over “Evil Dead II” for about six years now. When I first showed it to her, she outright hated it. She just didn’t get how I could love something that truly moronic. Understand, this girl is also a card carrying fan of “jackass: the movie,” Monty Python and “Dumb and Dumber.” I could never understand how she could NOT enjoy something as truly, wonderfully moronic as “Evil Dead II.” To her credit, she recently gave the film a second chance with an open mind and a different approach (she decided to wash it down with a few beers). Same reaction. One week later, we attended a screening of the recent British zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead.”

Wouldn’t you know it, she loved the damn thing. Maybe because it’s British, maybe because the movie caught her in the right mood, or maybe because she saw it with the right audience. Probably a combination of the three. When the movie ended and it became clear that we all just had a 4-star great time at the movies, I leaned over to her and explained, “See, this is what it felt like in 1987 when everyone saw ‘Evil dead II’ for the first time.” True to her nature, she told me to fuck off. Hey, it was worth a shot, because I believe I am right about that.

“Shaun of the Dead” has that same maniacal energy, that same willingness to bend the genre backwards and forwards and that same top-yourself-every-10-minutes brand of Raimi-esque showmanship. It delivers the goods for horror fans, comedy fans and anyone just looking for a gore-infested roller coaster ride. At the same time, it’s also a wonderful buddy comedy, a touching male bonding film and a sharp romantic comedy. There just happen to be zombies lurking in the scenery.

The Shaun in the title refers to a 29-year old salesman (played by co-writer Simon Pegg) who lives with an obnoxious, but lovable slob named Ed (Nick Frost). The two live with their ultra-responsible and somewhat intolerant flatmate who has grown tired of their irresponsibility. Shaun has always had to defend Ed to his other friends, but welcomes his company anyway, even after being dumped. Shaun’s girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has been growing tired of never having Shaun to herself since Ed is always around. At the same time, Shaun has also been growing tired of Liz always having her friends around.

Fine, you say, now where are the zombies!?! Funny how I didn’t bring that up in the last paragraph, but you see, I really like these characters and the movie does too. The zombie side of the story begins to pan out only in the corners of the frame while the characters contemplate the frustrations of adulthood versus the comforts of their arrested development. The movie makes its characters so likable and horror-cliché-free that I honestly wanted to see how their lives would pan out in the end. Many horror movies these days don’t want us to care.

Shaun and Ed wake up one morning and notice a plague has taken over London with the streets being ravaged by zombies. Unsure of how to handle the situation in spite of their accumulated hours of playing brainless videogames, Shaun and Ed concoct a plan to rescue their friends, rescue Shaun’s mom (Penelope Wilton), kill Shaun’s infected stepdad (Bill Nighy) and hide out in the nearest pub safe from the bloodthirsty killers that walk the streets. As with all zombie movies, the plan doesn’t quite work out.

That the title rhyme with “Dawn of the Dead” seems appropriate. Romero’s film satirized consumer culture by placing the zombies in a shopping mall and having them walk through the shops looking like unthinking machines, a perfect statement on consumer culture turning us all into passive nihilists. Shaun, a television salesman, contributes to the equation, but is forced to take action against it. Early on, Ed tells Shaun that they are both fast on their way to becoming like those old guys at the end of the bar who never leave and never really live. Shaun doesn’t want to believe it, but director Edgar Wright makes a point of showing Shaun walking like a zombie as part of his morning routine. As a record collecting, videogame playing, television selling consumer, Shaun, who is pushing 30, needs a swift kick into adulthood before he becomes everything he fears.

But fear not! This is not a heavy thinker of a movie. As a zombie flick, “Shaun” does not attempt to re-write any rules. Same ones apply here as they do in just about every other zombie movie, except maybe Romero’s pies-in-the-face concept. Instead of over-explaining the reasons for the zombies, Wright and Pegg instead create a romantic comedy first, splatterfest second. I don’t believe I’ve ever been this charmed by a cast in a horror movie. All of them hit the right notes and all look ready to jump headfirst into every absurd, hilarious sequence. Horror-comedy seems to be one of the toughest combo-genres to pull off, but the makers of “Shaun” know that the secret lies in their care for the characters and the right cast to play them. With “Shaun,” it’s all Groovy!

bottom of page