Movies — Shaun of the Dead (R)

Shaun of the Dead (R)

- Amy Diaz

Zombies clog the streets of London and it falls to one schlubby electronics store clerk, Shaun, to save the whole of England in the comedy horror Shaun of the Dead.

Well, maybe not the whole of England. Maybe it’s more like six or so of Shaun’s friends and family members. But their fates do indeed fall to him, in so much as they can’t figure out what else to do.

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is sort of straddling the fence between ordinary member of society and loser. On the one hand, he has a managerial position at a local electronics store. On the other hand, his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) lives pretty much rent free on Shaun’s sofa, much to the annoyance of a tie-wearing third roommate, and does nothing but play video games all day. Shaun disapproves of Ed’s slothful life but not so much that he wants to kick him out, in part because then he’d have no one to play with.

Liz (Kate Ashfield), Shaun’s girlfriend, sees no hope for this situation. Shaun will never want to do anything more than hang out in the local pub. Liz has higher aspirations so she kicks Shaun to the curb.

All wallowy and miserable, Shaun and Ed head for a night at the pub. They shuffle home and the next morning Shaun shuffles to the convenience store for something to drink, never completely picking up on the others shuffling around him. Though their aimless shuffling isn’t that much different from Shaun’s, it also includes a blood thirst and an ability to infect others with a deadly virus. Eventually, Shaun and Ed realize that those aren’t drunks in their back yard, they’re zombies. After arming themselves with a shovel and cricket bat, all the better to smack off the head of the undead, the two set out to save Shaun’s mom, Liz and, of course, the local pub.

Zombies are, in terms of movie villains, up there with Nazis and red-neck ax murderers. They are completely unsympathetic and it is totally satisfying to watch them die. Or, in the case of zombies, who are dead to begin with, die more.

Slow, brainless and uncoordinated, the zombies offer Shaun a sort of remedial-level enemy to fight—perfect for a man who has spent most of his adulthood in a pub downing pints. Shaun rises to the occasion admirably, mostly because he thinks playing the hero will win him back his girl, but, whatever, it’s entertaining to see him strap on the grown-up-man-pants, even though heroics clearly take a lot out of him.

That doesn’t, of course, stop the group—which comes to include his mom, stepdad, Liz, Ed and two of Liz’s wet-blanket roommates—from bickering about each others’ failings and inadequacies. The roommates pick on Shaun for his poor treatment of Liz; Shaun’s stepdad (Bill Nighy) complains about Shaun’s ignoring his mom (Penelope Wilton), who doesn’t want to trouble anyone and feels perhaps if they all just had a bit of tea and stayed at home things would blow over.

Shaun of the Dead works as both a comedy and a horror movie (and, to be honest, any movie with zombies is usually both anyway). The zombies offer just the right amount of peril without making things too heavy and we get just enough of the sense of danger and urgency to keep things interesting.

On the comedy side, Shaun of the Dead does something most American movies in this vein can’t seem to do, which is to actually be funny. It doesn’t stick to cheap sight gags and Scary Movie-like parody humor. It actually gives us laughs rooted in the characters and their lives and their situation.

Despite all the death and the occasional need to blow the head off one of the main characters, Shaun of the Dead is a charming amusement.

- Amy Diaz

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