Shaun Of The Dead

4 stars


12th September 2004

Aside from the ridiculously high placing of the Vicar of Dibley in the BBC's recent backslapping Britain's Best Sitcoms event, perhaps the most bogus omission from the coveted list was Spaced. Channel 4's slick twentysomething flat-sharing sitcom failed even to make the top fifty despite having more cutting wit and cultural nous in a single scene than an entire series of Richard Curtis' painfully shite churchy-fest. Director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg shouldn't feel too aggrieved however, as they've got their chance to get recognition on a global scale with Shaun Of The Dead; the world's first romantic comedy with zombies. And you thought Love Actually was terrifying.

The idea for a rom-com-zom first came about after filming a few short scenes for an episode of Spaced, in which Simon Pegg's character Tim became obsessed with zombies after a few too many hours playing Resident Evil 2 - such fun was had filming the scenes, the idea for a full zombie movie was birthed. We follow Pegg's no-hoper Shaun, who just so happens to get his life in order on the day that the undead decide that yes, today would be a good day to roam the earth and yes, it was getting a little crowded down there anyway. Dumped by his frustrated girlfriend Liz and saddled with his hapless and unkempt best friend Ed (played superbly by Spaced's Nick Frost), Shaun has not only got to turn his fortunes around and get back his girl, but he's got the remnants of Hell to deal with too - all of which could prove too much for an electrical store salesman who can't even gain respect from his adolescent, acne-ridden teenage staff.

If you're familiar with the wonders of Spaced then you'll instantly feel warm in the cuddly arms of Shaun; the lightning-fast editing and subtle cultural references are as big a part of Edgar Wright's movie as they were of his TV series. Pegg is on top form as Shaun, and although things are mostly played strictly for laughs, he handles himself competently with the 'rom' third of the movie, displaying some previously unearthed emotional depth in some genuinely touching scenes. As well as the rest of the Spaced alumni (plus a lengthy list of British comedy cameos), the real star here is Nick Frost - his slovenly portrayal of best friend Ed will not only be scarily familiar to the majority of the UK's student population, but is laden with more cuss words and boorish insults than you'd ever believe were possible (his opening line will be uttered in pubs up and down the country for years). Elsewhere, Kate Ashfield is cute enough to sustain interest as the pursued ex-girlfriend, but Dylan Moran and The Office's Lucy Davis don't really have the material or the big screen presence to fully round out their peripheral roles.

Borrowing heavily from Romero's Trilogy of the Dead and taking notes from the more recent group of zombie flicks spurned from Hollywood's Flavour Of The Month generator, Shaun Of The Dead doesn't disappoint when it gets to the gore. While laughs obviously take first priority, the zombies that walk the streets of Crouch End are fairly convincing - considering Edgar Wright's opus would have had approximately a tenth of the budget of the Dawn Of The Dead remake, his creatures look every bit as grotesque. Thankfully these are no athletic zombies - Shaun marks the return of the slow-moving shufflers that Romero fans will know and love. While essentially crap and not particularly threatening when on their own (throwing up some great gag opportunies which are gleefully grasped with both hands), these hellspawn really pack a punch when they hunt in groups, lending later scenes where our heroes are holed up in their local pub a real sense of claustrophobia and tension. While there's a lack of any real shocking moments, simply their presence and cow-like rumbling is often enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Stood next to the rest of the last year's hangdog British efforts (most of which star either a bumbling yet handsome idiot, haggard old dame or gun-toting cockney wideboy), Shaun Of The Dead is refreshingly different and never panders to the masses. It's never afraid to shoot off an obscure reference to 80's electronica or revel in its ridiculousness - the beating of their zombie landlord with pool cues in time to Queen's Don't Stop Me Now is a high-point - but thankfully Shaun Of The Dead doesn't disappear up its own arse completely a la 28 Days Later (there's even a sly dig at Boyle's 'infected' creatures at the very end). Delightfully silly, slathered with gore and yes, even touching at times, Shaun Of The Dead should at the very least highlight Wright and Pegg as the British comedic force to watch for the future. George Romero would be proud.

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