SHAUN OF THE DEAD
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You ever see one of those movies that is just so much damn fun that you want to tell everyone about it?
The kind where you grab a friend and say, "Oh man! You GOTTA see this freaking movie!"
During Comic-Con in San Diego, I was invited to a VIP showing of such a movie (actually, I'm not a VIP - Very Important Person, but I was with someone who is nearly VIP).
Now obviously from the title, this is a movie about zombies. The dead coming back to life.
But what if you don't live in the US where every street has its own culture? What if you live in a country known for its culture of "Stiff Upper Lip" self-instilled repression? What if you've always felt like you were surrounded by zombies?
You trudge to work, you trudge through your job, you trudge home! Christ! If there really were any zombies do you think you would even notice them shambling through your life? For that matter, would they even notice you?
Shaun is just a below average 29 year-old-guy with a below average job, a stepfather he hates, a love life on the rocks, and an apartment he shares with two ex-school buddies. One of them is Peter (Peter Serafinowicz), his old college pal. Peter has a good job and helps with the expenses. He likes Shaun but cannot stand the other roommate, Ed (Nick Frost). Ed is Shaun's old high school chum and doesn't bother to find a job, enjoys tormenting Peter, plays video games all day, and trashes the place; caring nothing for his roommates unless they are doing something for him. He's basically a cat only heavier and filthier and talks back. He's also Shaun's best friend! Oh, and he harbors a lusty affection for Shaun's Mother, Barbara (Penelope Wilton).
After seven years at the same dead-end job Shaun is a low level assistant manager: sneered at by his teenage underlings who'll soon be moving past him in all things.
His Mom ignores him because he can't stand her husband. His stepfather Phil (Bill Nighy: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA , UNDERWORLD, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION), makes Shaun feel guilty over the son's shabby treatment of his Mum.
Shaun's girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), loves him, but feels no empathy for his apathy and certainly doesn't want to spend her life sharing him with Ed: after all, look at Shaun's life, who would want to share that?
In short then, Shaun's a listless underachiever who has dreamt of big things but never set about doing anything. A life so ordinary, so boring, so instilled with drab hopelessness, that he finally, inexorably hits his rock bottom. Newly single, alone and heartbroken, he returns home drunk and, before passing out, writes on his kitchen memo board, GET YOUR LIFE TOGETHER!
Not likely of course. Shaun's lifestyle is so immersed into his character that it would take quite a shock to knock him out of it.
One shock coming up! The dead are coming back to life! Well, actually that shock's been going on for a few days now. It surrounds him in the street, it moves past him at his local convenience store, it plays across the televisions that he sells at Foree Electronics.
But Shaun is so overwhelmed by his problems, and Ed is so wrapped up in himself, that neither notice anything until it literally comes to their own backyard.
A seemingly disoriented girl (Julianne Watling: DARKHUNTERS).
Not just any girl
A living dead girl.
Then they notice another one only because that living dead thing has entered their backyard as well. While they try to figure things out, they finally pay attention to the news, which is telling them that what they see is widespread, not isolated, and even gives helpful tips on how to deal with it.
By now, any fan of zombie movies knows the drill: destroy the brain. Damage the head. Blow it off with a shotgun or chop it off with a chainsaw or, if you have neither, shoot a hole in the zombie's head with a nice pistol.
Unfortunately for these British Island folks, you cannot legally have a gun and how many apartment dwellers actually own chainsaws?
Well, Shaun and Ed figure that they could break a few heads with their microwave oven or television. But what about later when they want to microwave some popcorn and watch some telly?
No, killing the living dead requires some good old British ingenuity and thus lies the outrageous humor of SHAUN OF THE DEAD. These guys aren't heroes or cops or even well armed bad guys. They are just regular drab folks who've been caught up in a really unusual circumstance. There are no local gun stores with seemingly unlimited ordinance to raid, nor are Shaun and Ed members of their nearby SWAT team. They're just blokes who like to play video games. They try to apply videogame experience to dispatching the dead, but a human head, as it turns out, is a lot harder in real life. And what would at least knock out a regular person has no effect on a pain-free zombie.
As the two try to come to terms with zombies all over the place, Shaun realizes that Liz is in mortal danger. He may be an ex but he still has to try and save her. Trouble is, as Shaun looks through the mail slot in his door, he sees the streets are full of the living dead, or as Ed puts it, Zombies.
Ed: What word?
Shaun: That! The Z'ed word!"
Shaun: Yes! It sounds ridiculous!
Ed: Okay, but are they out there then?
Shaun: Oh yeah!
Shaun formulates a plan.
Shaun: "We take the car, go to mum's, Phil is probably already one of them, so kill Phil - "Sorry, Phillip," - grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of
this to blow over, how's that for a slice of fried gold?"
Incredibly naive? Yes, but it's just the most brilliant plan that a couple of washouts like Shaun and Ed can create.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD was released in April of this year in the UK and it was a smash, outselling the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD as well as 28 DAYS LATER (which wasn't a zombie movie anyway, but it felt like one). This is not tongue in cheek, forgive them because its cheap, silly kind of funny. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is missing-half-the-jokes-because-you-can't-hear-them-for-the-laughter, funny. It's funny if you are bringing a date who has never seen a zombie or horror movie and its funny if you are savvy enough to catch the inside jokes. It's that good!
Shaun wants to do the right thing despite his friend, Ed. Yet its easy to see why Shaun keeps the albatross around his neck. Ed never grew up and gives Shaun a handy excuse to slack off. But Ed is no girlfriend and in this heterosexual friendship, can never be one, so Shaun is torn between his friendship with Ed, which is dragging him down, and his love for Liz, which he knows is his real future.
There are so many great little human bits throughout the movie that enrich the lives of the characters. No sooner does Liz break up with Shaun than he runs into an old girlfriend, Yvonne (Jessica Stevenson). Flush with the barely stifled excitement of seeing Shaun again, Yvonne clearly holds a still burning torch for him. At the same time she doesn't want to lose her cool and make an ass of herself. As it turns out, neither has moved forward with their lives since they broke up. Chemistry re-erupts, the two say their stilted good-byes, and the dead walk among them.
Meanwhile, Liz's roommates, the ditzy Diane and the timid but slimy David, encourage Liz to break up with Shaun, each for their own reasons, and to Shaun's increasing frustration. At one point, Shaun actually tries to patch things up with Liz while standing outside her door, timing his entreaties with beating back the slow moving but relentless hoards of the dead.
And make no mistake, folks, this movie wouldn't be a proper zombie movie unless there were some seriously gross moments. Director and Co-writer Edgar Wright and writer actor Simon Pegg have a focus so sharp its cutting. The comedy never lets up yet the horror and gore and, most importantly, the story and characters are all palpable and real. Neither plot or people even come to the edge of cartoonish satire or lose themselves in the stupidity of double takes and bug-eyed humor. All the more important when dealing with a plot as admittedly ridiculous as the dead coming back to life.
At the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con, there were a large number of movies that were trying to generate buzz among this most important audience. Star Wars pummeled the fans into submission with the juggernaut that is the first original three movies (though fans wouldn't stop asking at the Q&As if Lucas was finally, mercifully, going to kill off that god damn Jar Jar Binks!). Joss Whedon got a huge audience going nuts over his upcoming movie, SERENITY, based on his wildly popular (and stupidly canceled) Fox television show, FIREFLY.
But the movie that came out from behind and grabbed everybody's attention was SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and those who didn't get a chance to see it, were doomed to keep hearing about what a kick-ass comedy they missed.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD is laugh out-loud inspired wit; funnier and fresher than anything to ride the spooky road since GHOSTBUSTERS.
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