Shaun of the Dead (2003) Movie Review

Who knew the Brits cared about making anything other than quirky romantic comedies, quirky gangster comedies, and quirky period comedies? Apparently there’s more to the British movie industry than yet another — and yet strangely familiar — romantic comedy starring sometime-john Hugh Grant. Edward Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” is a zombie film advertised as “A romantic comedy. With zombies.” Meaning, of course, that we can now add quirky zombie comedies to the British repertoire.

“Shaun of the Dead” stars (co-writer) Simon Pegg as the titular Shaun, an appliance salesman with no prospects for a brighter future. Shaun lives with lovable loser Ed (Nick Frost), his buddy from childhood, and uptight Pete (Peter Serafinowicz). The day after Shaun gets dumped by his exasperated girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), zombies lay waste to the city. Shaun and Ed promptly rescue Shaun’s mother, Shaun’s infected father-in-law, and then goes for Liz and her friends David and Di. The survivors hole up at Shaun and Ed’s favorite pub, where things don’t quite go as planned.

As advertised, “Shaun of the Dead” is a zombie comedy, although it does get a bit serious toward the end. But for those who might get bummed by the death of a major character, they needn’t worry too much. The film closes things out with a funny coda that informs the audience that, oh sure, zombies now walk the Earth, but does that really change things that much? “Shaun of the Dead” is a moderately budgeted comedy with a lot of sly and outlandish humor to carry the day. “28 Days Later” this ain’t. (“Shaun” even takes a stab at Boyle’s zombie film at the end.)

If there’s a problem with “Shaun” — although it’s not really a “problem” per se — it’s probably that the writers had so many jokes up their sleeves that they found it difficult to cram all of it into a 90-minute movie. As a result, you’ll be hardpressed to get everything the film is throwing at you in one sitting. There are plenty of visual sight gags, including a recurring female character that is a sort of parallel universe version of Shaun. A scene where the two, along with their respective survivors, meet in someone’s backyard is one of the film’s highlights.

Except for a few choice deaths toward the end, “Shaun of the Dead” is an irreverent comedy, and shouldn’t be approached as anything else. Does all the comedy work? Not all of them, but more often than not “Shaun” is very funny, which is really all you can ask for in a film that calls itself a comedy. “Shaun” delivers what it promises, although as a long-time zombie fan, I did wish the film had taken the whole “end of the world” scenario a little more seriously. Then again, expecting such from a movie like this is clearly out of the question, so this “quibble” is entirely of my own making.

Is “Shaun of the Dead” worthy of all the fanboy hype that’s flooded the Internet? It’s certainly a very funny film, even if it does get a bit serious in the end, thereby seemingly undermining its own initial purpose. The filmmaker’s conceit that life before zombies isn’t really all that different than life with — and after — zombies has legs, but I’m sure no one will watch “Shaun” for social satire. Most likely they’ll be too busy trying to figure out what all the slang means.

The cast is good without being outstanding. Co-writer/star Simon Pegg might just be a little old as the main character, but Pegg does play the loser-in-life-but-super-in-killing-zombies Shaun with wild enthusiasm. The same is true of Nick Frost, playing sometimes drug dealer Ed, whose cellphone keeps ringing even when the gang are on the run from zombies. Kate Ashfield has the thankless role of Liz, while Dylan Moran, as the prickly David, looks like Harry Potter all grown up and turned into an annoying, well, prick.

“Shaun of the Dead’s” best gag has to be a sequence in the middle where, having discovered that their pub — where they plan to hold up — is surrounded by zombies, the gang takes an impromptu acting lesson from survivor Di (Lucy Davis). Their plan? Fool the zombies into thinking they are zombies, too, and waltz right through the horde of undead! It works, of course, but only because “Shaun of the Dead” is a comedy, and a guy name Edgar Wright is at the helm instead of some other guy name Romero.

Even as a comedy sans zombies, “Shaun” works. But zombie fans should definitely realize that this is a comedy, because although the film follows all of the Zombie Rules as established by Romero, these zombies attack when the script calls for it, but has a tendency to take hours to move a few feet when the script requires characters to engage in long, drawn-out conversations in the midst of a zombie attack.

Edgar Wright (director) / Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright (screenplay)
CAST: Simon Pegg …. Shaun
Nick Frost …. Ed
Kate Ashfield …. Liz
Dylan Moran …. David
Lucy Davis …. Di
Bill Nighy …. Philip

Buy Shaun of the Dead on DVD