Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead screened this past Friday, August 6th, as part of Edgar Wright's The Wright Stuff. Be sure to check out Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, in theatres this Friday, August 13th.

Shaun of the Dead is a film that I have a great affinity for. Edgar Wright's zombies on the streets of London romantic comedy should be used as a template for how to create a horror comedy without being tongue in cheek.

Shaun has sight gags, one liners, and plenty of pop culture references, but it never rests on them. Much like Wright and Shaun star and co-writer Simon Pegg's BBC series Spaced, they both hold to a simple rule of writing that seems to get lost these days. Characters in an Edgar Wright production always come first. Wright and Pegg seem to share the same understanding that if you craft characters the audience can car about and identify with, you can put them into any situation no matter how outlandish it appears on paper and still play matters perfectly straight.

Shaun (Pegg) is a bit of a scatterbrain. In isn't very hard to see why. In the first 30 minutes of the film Pegg and Wright lay it all out for the viewer and it is hard not to feel sorry for how overwhelmed Shaun must feel about it all. Shaun has a dead end job at an electronics store and is visited by his overly dour and disapproving stepfather (Bill Nighy). One of his flatmates is an upwardly mobile hot-head and the other is a layabout who does absolutely nothing even if Shaun begs his (Nick Frost). His relationship with his girlfriend is on its last legs and he has to contend with her flatmates: a couple comprised of a woman who will always take her best friends side of any argument and a man who secretly wants Shaun's girlfriend as his own. With all this going on, it is hardly surprising that Shaun doesn't notice the dead coming back to life until they literally arrive on his lawn.

When the zombies begin their assault on London, all Shaun would probably like to do is escape to safety with his best friend and his love, but unfortunately all of his emotional baggage decides to follow him around. It isn't just that Shaun is ill equipped to properly dispose of zombies, but he has been stressed out to the point of almost being useless even to himself. In fact, if it weren't for the zombies and the constant threat of death, Shaun might have suffered a complete nervous breakdown by the start of the third reel.

Shaun of the Dead will also work with pretty much anyone who has ever been in a failing relationship. Personally, I have been on both sides of the equation. I have dated someone who could have been easily seen as a sheltered creature of habit and that is quit annoying at any rate. I have also been the person, however, that has been pushed so far to the breaking point that he is incapable of loving anyone including himself.

Shaun of the Dead is a film that successfully juggles a lot of heavy themes other than personal and familial relationships. Shaun also speaks about the media, economics, war, disease, death, and the nature of apathy in a capitalist society. Like many great horror films, a great academic paper could be written about it while still delivering the shocks and frights that genre fans demand. Like a great comedy, it puts the characters and situations above the gags while still allowing room for silly throwaway gags. And like any great film, Shaun of the Dead has more than earned the right to drop the word "cult" from its status as a classic film.

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