A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Shaun of the Dead

March 10, 2011

Shaun of the Dead

Our zombie weekend continues today with Shaun of the Dead. We had toyed with the idea of holding off on this movie until Halloween but seeing as we’re watching three more zombie movies (at least) over the next few days we figured it made sense to get all our zombies in at one time. I’m glad we did, too, because I’ve been trying to find an excuse to watch this with Amanda for ages. It’s got a ton of familiar faces, great humor, some pathos, and even a little social commentary thrown in for good measure. On the other hand, it is a zombie movie, or at least a spoof of one, and that’s not exactly our favorite genre so if it were not for this project Amanda might never have gotten around to seeing it. (Except that it stars Simon Pegg, who Amanda always enjoys.)

It’s a fun kind of contrast watching this movie right after Planet Terror. This movie spoofs a lot of the same sort of films, but comes at it from a slightly different angle. The humor is a lot less outrageous and the gore is more restrained. In short it’s a much dryer, more subtle, eminently British zombie spoof.

Simon Pegg is Shaun, a man-child who never quite grew out of his university days and is shambling through his life aimlessly. He lives with his best mate Ed, an oafish but affable lump who never does a lick of work (except maybe sometimes selling a little weed, though he seems fairly pants at that as a job as well) and plays video games on Shaun’s couch all the time. Shaun’s girlfriend Liz is suffocated by the mind-numbing constant sameness of Sean’s life and longs for romance and adventure. There’s some kind of bad blood between him and his father-in-law and his other flatmate is an annoying professional prick who desperately wants Ed out of their lives. Liz has two flatmates, Dianne and David, who also disapprove of Shaun and his aimless ways. Liz actually dumps Shaun right before the zombie outbreak starts to take over.

There’s a lot of clever humor to this movie. The first third of the movie or so is setting up Shaun’s monotonous life and at the same time playing with typical zombie movie tropes. The zombie apocalypse happens entirely in the background with Shaun completely oblivious to what’s going on. As a viewer, knowing it is a movie about zombies, you know exactly what’s going on, but Shaun is so preoccupied with his relationship problems with Liz and his father-in-law’s demands that he treat his mother better and with how awful his menial job is that he simply doesn’t see the shambling people around him or pay any attention to the constant sirens in the background. It’s a clever gag that works on a couple different levels. On the one hand we the viewers are waiting for the penny to drop and for Shaun to realize just what’s going on. Every time a hand reaches in from out of frame or someone stumbles towards him in the background we’re sure that the real action of the movie is going to start, but it doesn’t – and director Edgar Wright does a fantastic job of stringing this tension along. At the same time there’s a sort of wry comment about modern society and how much we all behave like zombies in our lives, mindlessly moving along oblivious to the world around us. It nods to the problems of those of us in modern urban life who are surrounded by people and isolated all the time.

Of course eventually Shaun and Ed do figure out what’s going on and immediately Shaun gets it into his head to go rescue his mother and Liz and take them to the most comforting place he can think of – his local pub, The Winchester. Of course everything he tries to do backfires horribly. He ends up with a whole entourage as Dianne and David tag along and his father-in-law Philip as well. Phillip has been bitten by a zombie and is slowly turning, which threatens to drive a wedge between Shaun and his slightly absent-minded mother.

The zombies in this movie are anything but frightening. Oh, there’s a little gore here and there, and not everybody survives to the end of the movie, but the dim-witted stumbling hordes are not really much to be feared. (Although being bitten by one very much is.) Much of the humor in the film comes from the slow stumbling of the undead and the relative ease with which they can be dispatched with anything from a cricket bat to an LP record.

Another source of delight is Edgar Wright’s distinctive directorial style. Purely by coincidence Amanda and I were talking with a friend last night about Edgar Wright and she encouraged us to pay attention to his editing and obsession with minor details, so I was looking at those aspects in particular as I watched this and comparing it in my head to Hot Fuzz (which we have already reviewed.) Wright has this cool trick he uses that involves very tightly edited sort of “flash montages” of images strung together. For example there’s Shaun preparing for his work day here or his planning process as he tries to figure out how to rescue Liz and his mother. We see similar images quickly re-played with subtle changes to show us progression in characters’ lives or thought processes. It’s a cool trick and fun to watch. The movie is also absolutely packed with in jokes and references (most of which sailed past me) to other zombie movies and other Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright projects. You would have to have listened to his commentaries or followed his web sites to really appreciate just how much here is insular comedy aimed at Edgar Winter fans… which amuses me but means that I feel somewhat as though I’m missing a lot of jokes that could improve the experience for me if I were more in the know.

I had a blast watching this movie again tonight though. Absolutely every single major character in the film is a familiar face for me and it’s just fun to see all these funny people gathered together and working on a single project. From Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy as Shaun’s mother and father-in-law to Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis as David and Dianne this movie is packed with great British comedians. It all makes me very much look forward to the mint chip flavoured third movie in the Blood and Ice Cream Pegg/Wright trilogy.

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

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