The Cult Class Collection

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Jessica Stevenson

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Rating: 1 2 3 4

'Now I'm feeling zombified...'

Alien Sex Fiend, Zombified
Shaun of the Dead... stumbling into a cinema near you

With the remake of George A Romero's Dawn of the Dead still shambling round the cinemas of Britain and now spoof 'romzomcom' (that's romantic zombie comedy to thee and me) Shaun of the Dead assaulting our screens, it seems that zombies are, actually, all around.

But whilst in the original Dawn of the Dead, Romero asks 'if Americans became zombies, where would they go?' (the answer, of course, being the mall), Shaun of the Dead asks, 'if Brits became zombies, would anybody notice?' And the answer? Yes, but it takes a while.

Spaced star Simon Pegg is Shaun, a likeable loser in a dead end job (interestingly, he sells TVs, those ubiquitous purveyors of mind-stultifying opium of the masses, but more of that later). At the ripe old age of twenty-nine, he stills shares a flat with his childhood friend, über-slob Ed (Nick Frost), and uptight yuppy Pete. (Why is Pete living in this suburban pigsty with these space wasters? Not sure. Anyway.)

Everybody knows someone like Shaun: the hapless slacker who sleepwalks his way through life, resisting the urge to grow up with every fibre of his being, yet suspecting that if he doesn't, he might just live to regret it. And everybody knows someone like Ed too: the resolute slacker who has no intention of ever growing up and is shamelessly happy to stay that way.

Shaun of the dead gets ready for action

Gently, and with just enough tedium to make us appreciate just how cack it is to be Shaun, we become acquainted with the facts of his life: his crap job, warring flatmates, disagreeable stepfather (the ever fantastic Bill Nighy) and disintegrating relationship with girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield). Gradually, however, we begin to realise that the banal sitcom of Shaun's hopeless life is playing out to the backdrop of a horror movie. Shaun and Ed may be able to ignore snippets of emergency news flashes on the telly, but we can't help noticing that something is wrong. There are bloody handprints on the fridge in the corner shop. That bloke in the street isn't drunk, he's dead. That girl isn't snogging her boyfriend, she's eating his head.

Dopey Shaun and Ed are confronted by a zombie. Who forgot to shut the front door?

It takes dopey Shaun and Ed a while to realise what's happening, but as the citizens of London descend from their usual lethargy into, well, zombiedom, Shaun finally wakes up and takes control. This is his chance to prove himself to Liz, his mum and the world. All he has to do is rescue them and lead them to a safe haven. So that'll be the pub then.

And so ensues a manic, action-packed adventure as Shaun, Ed, Liz, her flatmates David (Dylan Moran) and Dianne (Lucy Davis), Shaun's mum Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and stepfather Philip escape to safety. Will they make it through the zombie infested back gardens of suburbia? Will Shaun win back Liz's love by bashing zombies' heads in with a cricket bat? Will Ed get off his fat arse and prove himself a hero? You'll just have to watch the film, won't you.

Swapping the frantic pace of Dawn of the Dead for a more measured gait, we actually have a chance to get to know the characters, which makes it marginally more upsetting when they're eaten by zombies. And all credit to the wonderful Penelope Wilton, who somehow manages to give a moving performance as a zombie. Give the woman an Oscar, she's a star.

As seems to be the way with spoofs, Shaun of the Dead somehow manages to be both ridiculous and credible at the same time. Just as the mass public excitement at the prospect of alien invasion in Mars Attacks! seems far more believable than that of Independence Day, so the behaviour of Shaun and co. is way more convincing than the actions of the characters in Dawn of the Dead. Their first response to the appearance of the living dead (when they finally notice them at all) is to assume they're just really really drunk.

Like Dawn of the Dead, the survivors prove fairly hopeless at working together - just because you're under siege by zombies doesn't mean you can stop arguing about who fancies who and who's being a prick - but they argue the toss in a far more entertaining and realistic manner. And who needs armoured vans and the contents of a gun shop when you've got a toaster, a spade and a well-stocked record collection? After all, zombies aren't really that hard to kill. One zombie on it's own barely poses a threat at all, although en masse they're a different story.

Shaun attempts to shed some light on the situation

Which leads us to the message. Because it's precisely this idea of people - alive or undead - as mindless pack animals, useless when alone yet dangerous and powerful when in a crowd, that Romero puts across so well in both Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. And if Romero's social critique was apt in the '70s, it's even more relevant now. According to Shaun of the Dead, we are a nation of zombies, sleepwalking our way through life, propelling ourselves blindly from home to work to pub and home again without ever questioning why. Almost literally the living dead.

In Romero's films, the zombie reflects a deep-seated fear of losing control over the self. Zombies do not make decisions: they are mindless, senseless, depersonalised organisms compelled to behave in a hideous, destructive manner by a force they cannot question or understand. Are we, in our world of endless consumer conditioning through television, radio and now the internet, really any different? In a world where the government must spend millions on advertising to encourage us to talk to our children and not eat so much junk food that we become clinically obese and unable to fit on an aeroplane, are we really any better than the poor shambling zombies? Possibly, comes the answer. But only just.

And the final question? Well, that'll be 'is it funny?' And the answer? Yes. Clever, gory, sad, moving (I kid you not) and even a teeny bit scary (well, it makes you jump occasionally) but definitely very funny.

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