Shaun of the Dead
Review by Mike Finkelstein
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is having trouble with his life -- he really hasn't done much with it since he started out on his own, and he doesn't seem to have any prospects on how to make his life any better. He's stuck in a job he really doesn't like, has a roommate, Ed (Nick Frost), he can't always stand, and a girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), on the verge of breaking up with him. His life sucks, and just keeps getting worse.
Then the zombies show up. Ironically, they are actually a highlight for his day. Once Shaun realizes what's going on (the dead have come back to life), he pulls himself together, formulates a plan, and is finally able to get his life on track. Leave it to zombies to help him become the person he wants to be.
Shaun of the Dead is a parody -- it pokes fun at all the zombie conventions and generally has a good time with what its doing. Unlike a lot of parody films, such as the Scary Movie franchise, Shaun of the Dead does not throw tasteless jokes at the viewer under the guise of "humor." The Scary Movie franchise is depressing and stupid. Shaun is different, better.
For one, the humor is actually humorous. There's as many good situation jokes as there are dry, British jokes (if you've seen British movies before, you'll know they're a little drier, a little more highbrow than many American comedies). This works to the film's benefit, of course, allowing the film to start above other, lesser parodies -- and this dry style of wit allows the jokes to work within the confines of the movie (no mugging for the camera needed).
I have to admit that, for me, the humor is spot on -- I was laughing out loud often. Of course, the humor isn't for everyone. If you're a fan of many of the "parody" movies that have come out lately, such as Meet the Spartans, then this film isn't for you (I know someone out there has to be a fan of those flicks -- I mean, really, some people somewhere keep going to see them).
But the humor isn't the only strength of the movie -- it's also a loving tribute to the zombie genre. There are moments in the movie that are clear homages to previous zombie flicks (primarily the Romero movies, which even the title nods to). Shaun of the Dead is not just a fun comedy, it has moments that genuinely scare you, which somehow heightens the humor. There's enough humor in the flick to keep the people looking for a comedy happy, while the scares come at the right moments to catch you off guard.
Really, the thing that strikes me most is the balance this movie finds, and is able to maintain. You aren't bored with the movie, because the pace is fast. It's able to blend silly British wit with zombies (ooh, blended zombies -- worst smoothie ever), and only very occasionally does the film slow down.
There are only about two things that irritated me at all with the movie. The first was the friend, Ed. He is supposed to be Shaun's best friend, and while Shaun isn't the smartest guy ever, and he doesn't have the biggest backbone, I seriously don't understand why their friendship lasted as long as it did. Ed does nothing to redeem himself in the movie at all. He's is a bumbling, jobless loser who mooches off of his roommates and makes life a living hell for Shaun and Shaun's girlfriend, Liz. In fact, most of the arguments between Shaun and Liz center around the overly annoying Ed.
Additionally, at times the zombies seem to behave a little too dumb, just standing around aimlessly, waiting for the next line or move to be acted out before doing the whole zombie thing. Zombies are mindless and just wander after fresh meat. They really shouldn't stand around for any reason if there's a human around. They aren't really evil, but human flesh is a great motivator.
Understand, I'm a purist. I love my zombies slow and mindless. I get that anytime the zombies act out of "character", it's for the humor of the moment, but these are the moments that pull me out of the flick. Thankfully these scenes are few and far between.
These are minor quibbles, though. They don't really mar the movie, and it may just be me being too critical. If you like zombie flicks at all, you'll love this movie. Even if you don't, you'll likely get a kick out of it. It's a good, funny little British movie -- with zombies!