My Favourite Films #20: Shaun of the Dead

This movie is quite frankly awesome.


I came to it as a fan of Simon Pegg and the director Edgar Wright because of their brilliant TV show Spaced (if you haven’t seen it, track it down ASAP, it is hilarious) and it’s brand of geeky, slacker comedy, so when they announced they were making a movie, and a zombie movie at that I was pretty stoked.

The movie follows hapless electronic shop worker Shaun (Pegg), who’s life has stalled. His relationship with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is stuck in a rut mainly because of Shaun’s lazy nature and the fact he seems content to spend his time drinking in his local and playing computer games with his flatmate Ed (Nick Frost). Ed, an unemployed slacker, doesn’t quite click with Liz’s friends David and Dianne (Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis, respectively) and this is exacerbating the situation. David appears to have an issue with Shaun as well, and Shaun suspects he fancies Liz.

This finally leads Liz to break up with him, and the two proceed to get wasted, argue with their slightly more responsible flatmate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) and pass out. The following day, nursing hangovers, they awake to find that a zombie apocalypse has kicked off. Shaun and Ed hatch a plan to pick up Shaun’s mum and Liz, and hole up in their local pub and wait for the situation to resolve itself.

The gang go undercover as zombies .
The gang go undercover as zombies .

Muddling their way among the hordes of infected, and hopelessly ill suited for the fight, they manage to collect Shaun’s mother Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and stepfather, Phillip (Bill Nighy), who Shaun has a rocky relationship with, before heading off to grab Liz, Dianne and David and head for the Winchester pub. However, their plan to hole up comes undone and they find them beseiged by the zombies.

As the undead close in, the group’s personal issues come to the surface. Can Shaun win Liz back? Who will survive? And if he does make it, will Shaun finally sort himself out?

I’ve rewatched this movie countless times, and it still works, I laugh at the gags despite knowing much of the script, a few of the scares still make me jump and thanks to Wright and Pegg’s wonderful script I frequently pick up on little nods or gags that I’ve missed before.

The script is a delight, with seemingly throwaway lines actually turning to foreshadow later events and some wonderful one liners thrown around. But much more than just being a gagfest the film succeeds in being genuinely affecting, with some extremely touching moments particularly in the moments where Shaun and Phillip belatedly work out some of their differences.

It also doesn’t skimp on the zombie aspect either, and although they are largely played for laughs, they’re still done extremely well and there’s plenty of gore and jumpy moments, so it’s not for the faint of heart.

sod zombies

Pegg does a sensational job in the lead as the slobbish loser who has to pull himself together and be more proactive, and who after initially struggling does rise to the challenge of leading his group. Well, kinda.

Pegg manages to capture his indecision and slacker vibe, but keeps him likable and handles the shifts in his emotions well. Stretched to breaking point, he cracks up towards the end, but its a believable response.

While Shaun’s relationship with Liz is central to the plot and it was described as “rom-zom-com”, the major relationship is actually between Shaun and Ed. That’s not to say that the love story doesn’t engage, it is well handled and a rather sweet examination of the dangers of becoming complacent in a relationship.

But the Shaun and Ed bromance is key to the film, and Pegg’s on-screen chemistry with Nick Frost is delightful. Ed is a loudmouth, slobbish buffoon and at times infuriating, but there’s a sweet core to their friendship, and Ed seems to realize towards the end that he has been holding his friend back. Shaun for his part clings to his friendship like a sort of comforter, something from when he was young and stupid and it didn’t matter. It’s not until Shaun can move past his slacker ways that he can achieve anything with his life, but is he ready to make that jump and turn his back on Ed?

Out of their depth- The not so dynamic duo of Shaun and Ed
Out of their depth- The not so dynamic duo of Shaun and Ed

Their changing relationship is quite emotional and will resonate with anybody who’s felt their group of friends shift or realized they have to change and move forward. They bicker and hide their emotions, but there’s genuine warmth and love underneath it all, and the script and performances convey this wonderfully.

The other thing that I love about the movie is it’s Britishness. Several characters have a kind of British approach to things (not wanting to make a fuss, putting the kettle on) and unlike US zombie flicks there aren’t many firearms floating about meaning that the characters have to improvise with whatever’s lying about, which is the source for some very funny moments in the movie.

That's not cricket!
That’s not cricket!

Edgar Wright’s direction is glorious too, with fast cuts and inventive transitions between scenes, wonderful timing and some great visual gags. The film whips along at great pace and the editing is superb, especially in a scene where Shaun and Ed repeatedly change their plan of attack, the sequence getting faster and shorter each time. It’s hard to explain why it works, but trust me, it does.

The movie was the opening installment in what became the three Cornetto trilogy, and the second movie Hot Fuzz contains little nods to this, which only serves to enhance the enjoyment of both films, but even on their own both are hilarious, well done movies and I’m eager to see the final part, The World’s End soon.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO

2 thoughts on “My Favourite Films #20: Shaun of the Dead

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