‘Shaun’ offers humor, gore

By on October 6, 2004

Zombies, by definition, are people who act or respond in mechanical or apathetic ways. George Romero invented the genre of “zombie horror” with the “Night of the Living Dead” series. In “Shaun of the Dead,” writer/director Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg parody such classics to show us that while comfortably living in our modern society, we are not far off from being classified as neo-zombies.

Pegg stars as Shaun, a 29-year-old senior appliance salesman in a monotonous section of Northern London.

Society seems drab and meaningless there, similar to the lives of Shaun and his flat-mate Ed (Nick Frost), whose life is consumed by video games and downing pints at the Winchester Pub. Shaun’s girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), has grown weary of Shaun’s unmotivated and immature life of unexciting routine and sets an ultimatum – grow up or prepare to be left alone.

Shaun’s life is so habitual that when he goes to the store hung-over the following morning, he barely notices the changes around him – sirens blaring, vandalized property, people screaming and fleeing, and bloodied corpses walking about. An early comedic gem is when Shaun reaches in the convenience store fridge and does not notice bloody handprints on the glass, then proceeds to turn and casually slide in a pool of blood on the floor.

Upon returning home, Shaun and Ed find a girl they mistake as being drunk lingering about in their garden. Shaun shoves off the attacking girl and impales her upon a water pipe, which the girl removes herself from, leaving a gaping hole in her body. The camera then suitably shoots through the new wound to showcase Shaun’s outrageous reaction.

It is only then that the two mates realize that something is up. Shaun devises a plan to rescue his ex-flame Liz and his beloved mum, Barbara (Penelope Wilton), and hole up in the Winchester Pub until the devastating scenario blows over.

The method of offense against the zombies is simple – remove the head or destroy the brain. Armed with a cricket bat, a shovel and a crate of vintage LPs (who would have thought the Batman Soundtrack would make for such a useful decapitator?), Shaun and Ed take to the streets to rescue their friends and family.

After successfully procuring Liz and her flat-mates, the eccentric drama teacher Diane (Lucy Davis) and her painfully palpable boyfriend, David (Dylan Moran), the coalition sets off to rescue Shaun’s mum. Unfortunately, Shaun’s menacing stepfather Philip, masterfully played by Bill Nighy, has been bitten by one of the “undead” adversaries, though he reassures Shaun and his wife claiming he “ran it under a cold tap.”

The premise is get bitten, die, then re-emerge as a zombie. Thus, it is a race against time before Philip becomes one of the flesh-craving cohorts. In his dying moments, Philip reveals his true feelings about Shaun, that he has faith that Shaun will one day succeed in life as a great man and become a leading example for his future children. Moments after this dramatic exchange, Philip is re-animated with a blank stare and begins assaulting Shaun and his entourage.

Narrowly escaping several times, the group makes their way through backyards to reach their intended safe haven, the Winchester. Once there, their morale begins to deteriorate as masses of zombies swarm towards the pub. The film’s final scenes become increasingly dramatic and heartfelt, not to mention quite gory, but the tight and witty script maintains a level of underlying humor until the film’s climax.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a true delight and has something for viewers of every dimension and walk-of-life to enjoy. There are moments of humor, some very slapstick and others full of clever wit, scenes of true horror for fans of violence and gore, and dramatic scenes of unexpected sentiment and warmth. Wright and Pegg have written a unique film which is about more than just bashing zombies for survival.

At its core, the film takes a sardonic look at the self-contained, apathetically unaware society in which we live in. It also shows people that sometimes it takes an invasion of flesh-eating zombies to realize that it is time to grow up


About Mike McKenna