Shaun Of The Dead

Shaun Of The Dead

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A tale of terror set in leafy London suburbs, Shaun Of The Dead is not only the funniest zombie movie for years but also, without a doubt, the best. This remarkable film debut from the team behind popular comedy series Spaced pulls no punches. It has all the violence and gore one could want, along with black humour worthy of Romero at his best, and, perhaps a first for the genre, characters one can really care about, though they're as hapless and flawed as any of the usual humans confronting undead. This is no one-joke spoof, but a fully rounded story packed with action and energy. Its mundane setting, naturalistic use of sound and lighting and habit of understatement restore the sense of outrage which the appearance of the walking dead ought to provoke.

Centering on the experiences of salesman Shaun (Simon Pegg), whose life revolves around trying to keep the peace between his flatmates, attempting to appease frustrated girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) and trying to come to terms with his mother's remarriage 17 years previously, this is a story about ordinary people - 'losers', as they call one another - trying to deal with something extraordinary.

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So preoccupied is our hero with his domestic concerns that he spends the first 40 minutes of the film quite oblivious to the developing horrors around him. This provides for some hilarious scenes, and an impressive list of cameo performances from minor British television celebrities underlies its tongue-in-cheek realism. Director Edgar Wright has great fun observing the narrow line between zombie behaviour and normal human behaviour, with early scenes of cashiers in supermarkets, people on the bus, and youths walking down the street which mimic the famous scenes of zombies trying to do ordinary things at the end of the original Dawn Of The Dead. George Romero, incidentally, has stated that he loves this film. It's easy to see why. It's making the social statements which give good zombie movies their charm without ever belabouring them, and, in doing so, it never slackens its pace.

Once he realises what's happening, Shaun's first priorities are, naturally enough, to rescue his girlfriend and his mum, though he has only the vaguest of ideas about how he might protect them. Thereafter, he knows that they'll need to find somewhere they can make a stand. This is the not the US, and the notion of going to the mall never occurs. With zombie-like predictability, Shaun heads for the place which has always brought him comfort and security, the Winchester Arms pub. Of course, zombies, perhaps acting on the basis of some residual memories, want to go to the pub too...

It's really refreshing, in Shaun Of The Dead, to see old-fashioned shambling zombies back again. Singly, these creatures are easy to evade, and, once our heroes have developed a basic idea of how to handle weapons, they're fairly easy to kill; but there will always be more of them, and their inexorable assault leads tension to mount throughout the film. There are some excellent sequences of zombie-bashing, with innovative use of Dire Straits records, tennis equipment and cocktails; the scenes of zombies eating humans are likewise gleefully gruesome.

But it's the scenes between the survivors themselves, with the usual petty squabbles played out to hilarious effect yet much more convincingly than usual, which really raise this film above the norm. Even people who wouldn't usually consider watching horror films will find much to enjoy about it. Fans of Spaced will be entertained by references to the series, but there are also lots of film related jokes which will have international appeal, and it's not necessary to get any of this in order to enjoy it. The pacing is superb, the story never slackens its grip, the violence is genuinely ugly, and there is, overall, a tremendous sense of adventure. Do not miss this film.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2008
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Director: Edgar Wright

Writer: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Dylan Moran, Lucy Davis, Bill Nighy, Peter Serafinowicz, Penelope Wilton, Nicola Cunningham, Keir Mills, Matt Jaynes, Gavin Ferguson

Year: 2004

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

Glasgow Youth 2015

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