REVIEW: Shaun of the Dead [2004]

“Don’t forget to kill Philip”

Anticipating the release of Hot Fuzz has made me want to see the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright career works. Having heard how great the UK series “Spaced” was, I bought an import from Britain and just recently finished it. The show was great, pop culture abounds, hilarity from start to finish, and much like “The Office,” they knew when to stop and not let the show take a fall with filler and repetition…cough…US “The Office”…cough. What better segway from those two seasons then to go right on to the crew’s first feature film, Shaun of the Dead. Now, I own a lot of movies on DVD, and as a result don’t get to watch them often, and in some instances have never seen them yet. However, I must have watched Shaun four or five times in the past three years. I find the humor great and the characters well fleshed out and just having a blast with each other. It never gets tiring for me.

Director Edgar Wright shows the ability to appropriate camera shots from other films, like he did with the numerous homage moments in “Spaced,” and also a deft handling of the medium, especially with the long one take of Shaun walking into the convenience store, (both times). The way he was able to recreate shots and moments from the beginning of the film, to later on is effective and funny. It’s good to see that he has kept a working relationship with writer/actor Simon Pegg because the two go together brilliantly. Pegg co-wrote and starred in “Spaced” with Jessica Stevenson, (included in Shaun with a small role). Pegg is naturally charismatic and has perfect comedic timing throughout—helped I’m sure by the fact he is usually playing against, best friend in real life, Nick Frost. The thing with Simon Pegg is that he isn’t your usual comedian trying to show range; the guy really can act. He plays the serious moments with the right amount of emotion and reality, and his expressions are always true to the moment. Sure the physical comedy is there, but his characters always work so well without the gimmicks, that when the slapstick comes, it actually works.

Wright and Pegg have definitely stamped themselves all over this film. Using their influences and love of the horror and comic genres, they have created a monster that stands all on its own. Equal parts spoof and real zombie scare-er, Shaun of the Dead is a genre masterpiece, breathing new life into a type of film which has been stale and redundant for the past decade or so, (besides the great 28 Days Later, which has a shot taken at it here). Besides the need for survival amongst the living dead, though, we also have Shaun’s quest to become a man and sort out his priorities, the most important being getting his girlfriend Liz back. The fusion of this common romantic comedy plot device and its polar opposite, with horror, works surprisingly well both in the script and the acting. Whereas most horror films just make you bide time as each character is taken out one by one, we are treated here with a group of friends that truly care for each other and meet fate together rather than alone. These people know the genre and never stupidly go into a situation to conveniently be killed.

The humor could never have been as successful as it was without some spectacular actors. Kate Ashfield, as Shaun’s girlfriend Liz really adds depth to the film, playing the straight character to the many goofballs running around. I’m not familiar with anything else she has done, but I would assume it is mostly serious stuff as she is one of the few here not playing for laughs. Penelope Wilton is perfect as Shaun’s mother and Peter Serafinowicz once again shows how he excels at playing pricks, (like his “Spaced” character). Also, like so many films of this ilk, we need to have the token serious actor to give it some credibility. Bill Nighy is that person here and he definitely adds professionalism while fitting in naturally with the crazy cast.

While this is Wright and Pegg’s film, they never could have done it without the help of Nick Frost. For being a regular guy and best bud to Pegg while he was starting out in the industry, Frost landed an integral role in “Spaced” on the behest of his friend. Pegg wrote into the series a character based on one of Frost’s personas that he would do to get laughs. Knowing no one could do the role better, he got Nick into the show despite him having no acting background whatsoever. It was a fantastic move, because he is a natural and in Shaun shows the maturity and growth he has undergone. The guy is a full-fledged actor now and steals every scene he is in, while never being just a copy of his TV role. Frost has range and one of the best deliveries for comedic gems. The few times when the film started to lull, Frost was always there to save the day. Having a familiar rapport with Pegg also helps us believe their relationship and understand the two and where they are coming from. I can’t wait to see what the Wright/Pegg/Frost trio can do to the buddy cop genre with this year’s Hot Fuzz. If the trailers have anything to say about it, it should be on par with “Spaced” and Shaun, if not exceed them both.

Shaun of the Dead 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½


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