From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Movie Review: Shaun of the Dead (2004) Starring - Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran; Screenplay - Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright; Director - Edgar Wright; Rated R for language, violence and gore.

It's pretty unusual when you get a chance to see one of the funniest movies of the year, one of the scariest, and a pretty solid romance in one week. When someone manages to roll all three into one movie, that is something that I think merits talking about, and it's as good a subject as any to dive back into the world of blogging with.
What is Shaun of the Dead?
Simon Pegg is Shaun, and everyday bloke that you probably recognize, or maybe even emulate to some degree. He has a fairly mundane job working in an electronics store. He has a girlfriend named Liz (Kate Ashfield), who he's starting to have problems with. She's looking for some kind of direction for the future. All he wants is to work, get paid, and enjoy a few pints at the local pub with Liz, her friends Dianne and David (Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran), and his best friend Ed (Nick Frost). Liz decides to break things off when Shaun completely screws up plans for them to have a nice anniversary dinner. For Shaun it seems like things just couldn't possibly get any worse for him. But sometimes it takes adversity to bring out the best in a person.

Well, that and a whole lot of zombies.

Excuse me?
Shaun finds that the day after Liz breaks things off with him, London finds itself plagued by armies of the undead. He goes from trying to get his life together to trying to keep his and Ed's going. And somewhere in there, he has to rescue his mother and the woman he still loves and find someplace safe for all of them to wait out the undead apocalypse in.

Sounds positively absurd
And in a lot of respects, it kinda is. I mean, what do you expect from a movie that bills itself as a "romantic comedy with zombies" (check out the official website at Yet as crazy as this sounds, Shaun of the Dead manages to pull three completely different film genres, mash them all together, and produces a film that is coherent, thoroughly enjoyable, and one of the hidden gems of the year.

The romantic angle
Pegg's Shaun and Ashfield's Liz don't exhibit any real chemistry until the end of the movie, but that plays beautifully into the troubles they're having. Liz really needs to know if they have a future, and whether Shaun is the kind of man who can provide the future that she wants. Shaun's just a poor shlub who really just doesn't know what it is he wants out of life besides Liz.

He's not quite directionless enough to really be labeled a slacker, but even that illustrates that he's not quite committed to doing something all the way in the beginning. His friend Ed has clearly taken being a loser to an art form. Shaun hasn't even committed himself to going all the way to rock bottom. As the movie moves along and the audience sees Shaun try to find out what his direction really is, you can't help but be moved by how earnest he really is in trying to make the best of things. As he and Liz try to work through their issues in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, you see that there's a real genuine affection between them, one that's been born out of a long time together as a couple. You'll likely see a couple you've known that had issues and tried to work them out. It's a far more real love than anything I've seen in the latest Julia Roberts or J-Lo estrogen fest.

The zombie angle
The zombie aspect of the story is played up very nicely too. There's a part of me that almost wishes they had saved the movie's release for closer to Halloween, but I am glad to have it out at all (teasers for this movie have been bouncing around since March, and it's already out on DVD in the UK). The zombie threat is menacing the whole way through, even when it's being played for laughs. The makeup is good, and I particularly like the dead milky eyes they used. There's scenes where there seems to be moments of recognition between some of the zombies and the main characters, and it plays out a bit more disturbingly with the dead eye glare (a strange thing to latch onto, maybe, but it is something I thought about a lot, especially on a second viewing).

The gore is concentrated in bursts (no pun intended) that is fairly gross in its realism. I disturbed a friend after the second viewing with observation that a scene towards the end with the evisceration of one of the main characters was about as real as I could imagine that kind of violence looking, and being glad for that fact. But with so many filmmakers cheating the gore factor by using computers, it was nice to see some old school Hollywood special effects on display in all their bloody glory. This is especially nice given the sly references in the movie both to Romero's original Living Dead series, as well as more contemporary zombie counterpart 28 Days Later.

The comedy angle
But where this movie really hits hard on all cylinders is in the comedy aspect. It's not an exaggeration for me to say this is one of the funniest movies I have seen all year. Pegg in particular has a really deft gift at physical comedy. From a scene early in the film inside a convenience store, to the final showdown at the end, Pegg's Shaun has some truly inspired moments of physical comedy that had me not able to breathe, I was laughing so hard.

And the movie works well on a subtle level as well with its humor. From a very inspired opening credit sequence that shows that the world is closer to a zombie haven than we might care to admit, to musical choices that act as a final flourish to each joke, the filmmakers show in this movie that they respect all the genres they've crammed into this film, and make the most of playing them all up for laughs. I mean, for crying out loud, even the fart jokes it reaches for are a bit subtle. When was the last time you could really say that?

Undead End
By the time I got to the end of the film, I felt like this was one of those movies that gave me everything I had hoped for and more. It's a really tight piece of work that delivers more than you would expect from something that tries to do so many things at once. It does what it wants to do as well as any movie has this year. That makes it quite the Halloween treat.