Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Starring Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield and Nick Frost
Rating: * * * ½
Zombies, like the rest of us, are basically creatures of habit. Apart from their anti-social habit of gorging on human flesh, they seek only to return to their former mortal existence, no matter how listless or banal. Which brings us to the fascinating question at the heart of this enormously funny film: In a disengaged culture, would you even notice if the dead came back to life; and if you didn't, what would be the difference between them and you?
The answer for our hero, a North London pub patron and electronics salesman, is a resounding "Not much."
For the first third of this movie Shaun (Simon Pegg) shuffles through the world in the waking coma most of us call life. He plays video games with his farting flat-mate, rides the bus to work, forgets to book a table for dinner and gets dumped by his exasperated girlfriend. All around him are the recently dead, but Shaun is too distraught and hung-over to notice.
After a particularly hard night at the pub, he wanders out to corner shop for a Diet Coke and fails to register anything strange about the overturned garbage bins and moaning weirdoes in the street. This is Monday morning in North London, after all. A zombie lurches toward him for a chomp, but Shaun brushes him away and apologizes for not having any spare change.
It's only when a swaying, white-eyed girl monster turns up in their back garden that Shaun and his flat-mate are truly gob-smacked. "Oh my God," says Shaun. "She's so drunk!"
Once our man finally clues in, he's in for the fight of his life. Shaun must save his mother and win back his girlfriend while proving to the world that he is different from the army of moaning rotters overtaking the city. How does he do this? By decapitating a bunch of zombies with a cricket bat and barricading himself and his friends in (where else?) the local pub.
The comic genius of this film is in the details. More than just another spoof turn on the horror genre flick, Shaun of the Dead is a portrait of modern middle-class Britain. The characters' reaction to the zombies is priceless. "Next time I see that guy, he's dead," the yobbish flat-mate unwittingly says of an enemy. Shaun's mother, on the other hand, with her typically English horror of causing a fuss, explains to her son, "A couple of gentlemen came by the house. Everything's fine, except, well, they were a bit bitey."
But for all its clever insight, Shaun of the Dead still delivers all the (literally) sidesplitting violence required of the form. Zombie movie aficionados will not be disappointed by an absence of spurting fluids, writhing intestines or easily detachable limbs. Here is a horror-comedy that actually accomplishes what so many others (think the Scary Movie series or Canada's own Ginger Snaps franchise) have attempted and not quite managed: It's intelligent, funny and utterly disgusting all at once.
The feat is largely thanks to a wickedly funny script. The cast of twenty-something actors also execute their roles as modern Britain's new generation of dull young things with deadpan aplomb.
Pegg is almost unbearably perfect as Shaun. You know this guy, right down to the ginger goatee and fixation on 1980s electronica. His hapless vacillations between overgrown boyhood and maturity lend real pathos to what would otherwise be an ironic lark of a movie. Instead, the film itself ends up being far more intelligent and out of the ordinary than any of the characters within it.
In the end, Shaun of the Dead plays perfectly on two levels - it's a clever comedy, but disguised as a fun, dumb horror flick. A movie made to delight, and even accidentally enlighten, both the living and the dead.