A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 375 – Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead – March 10th, 2011

Today is the start of a big weekend for us. PAX East is in town and we’re attending all three days (convenient that it’s so close to us). We did this last year when the project was brand new and we had to split one of our movies between home and hotel. Hoping to avoid that this year. But as this is a gaming convention we’ve picked some game-based movies. No, tonight isn’t one of them, but it follows along a general theme (zombies) carried over from yesterday. Andy pointed it out the other day – we really had set ourselves up for an all zombie weekend. And judging from what we both felt like after PAX last year, zombies seem pretty fitting.

Granted, this is a far different zombie movie from last night, but there are some comparisons to be made. After all, they’re both the sort of parody and homage that end up being pretty good examples of the genre they’re parodying and paying homage to. It’s just that while one goes over the top with the gore and violence (that would be last night’s Planet Terror) the other swings full into comedy, playing every zombie reveal and brutal kill for humor. And really, I’m not a zombie movie kind of gal. I’m not sure what it is, though it’s entirely possible that it’s an issue I have with tension and how it affects me and creeps into my dreams so I spend the whole night tensed up and most definitely not resting. But whatever it is, serious zombie movies just aren’t the sort of thing I generally tune into.

And that’s a problem here! It’s a real problem. Because while I totally get the parody aspect and general feel of things, I know there’s a more specific level that I’m totally missing. We hosted a guest who got in early for PAX last night and we got to talking about movies. She mentioned that her boyfriend greatly appreciates Edgar Wright as a director because he’s a fantastic craftsman. He sets up shots so carefully to mimic and pay homage to the source material he’s aping. And in Hot Fuzz I got it. Not all of it, to be sure, but there were little bits and pieces in there that I recognized immediately. And here? I simply do not have the basic knowledge to appreciate the movie for that. And I know it’s going on, because that’s how Wright works, but I won’t get it because I don’t watch zombie movies. And I feel bad, you know? I feel bad because the cleverness there is wasted on me. I hate being a bad movie viewer.

On the other hand, there’s plenty in this movie to appreciate even for me. After all, even if I’m not familiar with the specifics of various zombie movies, I do know enough about the genre to get the jokes here. Our main character is Shaun, played by Simon Pegg. Shaun works in dreary retail job, has just been dumped by his girlfriend, feels bullied by his step-father (still, even in his late 20s) and lives with two flatmates: Pete and Ed. Pete seems like a decent guy, but he cannot stand Ed, who is a total slob and who doesn’t work or do much of anything aside from play video games. But Ed (played by Nick Frost) is Shaun’s best friend. So when the people around the village start turning into zombies, Shaun is obviously going to be the unlikely hero. It’s expected, but not unwelcome. He’s not a bad guy. He’s likable. Just stuck in a rut. To be honest, he feels a lot like Run, Fatboy, Run’s Dennis.

The zombie reveal is a non-issue, which is the whole point. You see people turning into zombies in the background throughout the beginning of the movie. A woman on the bus, a guy in the park, people here and there stagger and moan. And Ed and Shaun don’t notice. Or, well, they do, at one point, but they just think the guy is drunk. It’s a total lack of tension that I adored. Once they know what’s going on, their reaction is, of course, to try and fight off the zombies. So they grab kitchen utensils and plastic flower pots and vinyl records. It is the least effective frontal assault ever and the zombies just sort of slowly shuffle towards them, posing no threat at all. Of course, the zombies do eventually gather in enough numbers to pose a real threat and Shaun and Ed have to leave their flat and go find Shaun’s mother and step-father (played by the always awesome Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy, respectively), then Shaun’s ex-girlfriend, Liz. With Liz are her friends, Dennis and Dianne and they come along to, following Shaun and Ed to the pub where they spend most of their evenings.

What I love about this movie (aside from the cast, which is hilarious and full of people I recognize from Black Books, including a cameo from Tamsin Greig and a couple of folks who had single-episode parts in the show) is that it manages to balance the parody and action. The overall plot is great, the dialogue is snappy and the little moments, like the two groups of survivors passing and being made up of the same stock character types? Those are fantastic. They’re just the right type and level of humor without taking away from the fact that the movie still has action scenes and a bit where one character gets torn limb from limb. There’s a threat, which is made clear as character drop like flies, but then there’s not a threat at the same time, since the zombies are so slow and so easy to kill. A tricky balance, and one the movie maintains admirably. If this is simply what happens when Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg get together then I hope they work together for a good long time because it’s brilliant.

March 10, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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