Thursday, 25 April 2013

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

I have been a big admirer of Edgar Wright for quite a while now. He's pulled off some quite significant achievements in a relatively short career. With Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, he resurrected the British film comedy, which had been lying rather dormant since Richard Curtis' empire of the nineties. With Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, he showed that he doesn't have to rely on Simon Pegg or Nick Frost to make a genuinely great film, and that he could make a film on an international scale. With Tintin, he showed he could write a huge blockbuster which was still a fantastic movie. There's nothing Wright has done that I haven't enjoyed. One thing I hadn't seen until last week, though, was the first on the list and his breakthrough hit, Shaun of the Dead.

I've been dying to see it for a while. It not only launched his movie directing career, but also the film careers of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have gone on to become very popular across the Atlantic. It's an impressive wake for a very British comedy that grew from the cult television sitcom Spaced, being considered amongst the best comedies of the noughties, and I still hadn't seen it. When it appeared on television last week, I took the shot.

It's directed in a very entertaining manner by Wright, very similar to Spaced. The shots are paced according to the speed of the action, and are dynamic when they should be. The writing is smart. It assumes you already know the premise of a zombie apocalypse, and plays with that in the first part of the film when life is actually pretty normal. The message is that essentially, we're all zombies anyway, as we stand mindlessly in the street, listening to music with a barely conscious expression, or play video games with no sense of anything happening around us. Even before the disease (which is thankfully never explained to the audience; that would detract from what the film actually concerns) takes hold, Shaun lives in a world populated by the undead.

Not least, including himself. Simon Pegg's Shaun is a loser, a man who is too lazy to make any effort with his girlfriend of a number of years. Inevitably, she leaves him, and only then does he realise what a total arse he is. As he tries his hardest to win her back, the dead inexplicably begin to rise back to life. Without time to explain, Shaun and his immature ape of a best friend Ed begin fighting their way through wave after wave of the living dead to rescue his parents and his ex. Still in his tie and white shirt from work ('you've got a bit of red on it'), he finds himself desecrating corpses with a vinyl records, a parasol stand, his flatmate's car and a baseball bat. Whilst not quite as gory as the sequel-but-not-a-sequel Hot Fuzz, it still gets ridiculously bloody.

Famously marketed with the description 'a zom-rom-com', Shaun of the Dead never loses its initial plot line of the hopeless boyfriend trying to win back his bitter ex, even as the circumstances get madder and madder. Shaun is still trying to impress Liz until the dead become too much of a problem to solve with just a swipe of the bat. When they're hiding behind the bar of the Winchester pub, with most of their friends dead and zombies scraping to get at their necks, the film becomes almost tender in its depiction of Shaun and Liz's unique relationship, dismissing the absurdity of the situation for a minute to focus on the pair's feelings for each other. It's brave, but rewarding.

Shaun of the Dead is fun even just as a zombie smash-em-up, but it works just as well on other levels. It's as much a romance and a clever satire as it is a comedy horror, which makes it stand high above most other modern comedies, which appear to have been produced from a conveyor belt of genre cliches and gross-out toilet gags. It's nice to appreciate that such intelligent talent can come out of the UK. We can thank people like Edgar Wright for that, and there's much to be thankful for.

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