This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Shaun of the Dead has been called Spaced with zombies, and as shorthand notation goes for describing the film it’s not a bad one. Most of the cast of the mildly well regarded by many (not me in particular , mind) offbeat Channel 4 sitcom make an appearance, notably Simon Pegg himself. As writer and lead actor of this zombie revival outing it’s a fairly high profile first outing, although to keep things familiar he’s brought along Spaced director Edgar Wright to shout through the megaphone. As a result, there’s a certain familiarity in tone with the earlier outings that will no doubt keep the fans happy. For wider audiences, Shaun of the Dead. has mixed success.
Before the dead start walking the earth yet again we’re introduced to high street electronic outlet sales assistant Shaun (Pegg) in the midst of his exhilarating and utterly familiar daily routine. The daily bus ride to work filled with the half asleep and the slog through work filled with the half witless. Quiet pint down the local with his slobbish, Johnny Vegas-esque flatmate Ed (Nick Frost), girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) who’s pining for a slightly more interesting life and her flatmates, the objectionable David (Dylan Moran) and the agreeable Dianne (Lucy Davis). For the majority of people, certainly those who’ve been sold into the wage slavery of modern day working this will seem like a familiar setup.
The twist comes as the tangentially mentioned returning space probe that caused so much bother for George Romero arrives and overnight the sleepy English suburbs are overrun by the old school lurching flesh chomping inconvenience that are Zombies. While many of the best gags come from Shaun and Ed’s blind ignorance of the zombie menace as they recover from a night of heavy drinking, caused by the breakdown of Shaun and Liz’s relationship, it’s not long before the two decide to take on the zombies, save Liz, David, Dianne, and Shaun’s mum Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and generally bring the ruckus to all the zombie muthafucus.
The exact details of which I shan’t spoil for you, although truth be told there’s precious few details to spoil. What will perhaps come as a surprise to those stumping up the ticket price on the basis of the trailer is that for substantial stretches of the movie it veers away from the out and out comedy agenda to a more serious relationship drama and a slightly serious zombie survival flick. Of course, the official website’s URL at RomZom.com might have been a subtle clue but one that won’t be taken up by the majority of people viewing the opportunistically placed trailer in front of Dawn of the Dead.
I’m not sure what the basis for this style clash mish mash was, but the results aren’t quite what I’d image Pegg and Wright has envisioned. The prime problem is that the narrative will swiftly and jarringly hop between admittedly funny scenes as Ed and Shaun try to dispatch zombies with a variety of innocuous household implements (with varying degrees of success) to a potentially affecting scenes involving the death of loved ones at the hands and teeth of those zany zombies. It’s an interesting concept, but not one that hits home with the intended effect. Offbeat farcical comedy and nigh on serious drama make uncomfortable bedfellows, and while fans of Spaced are no doubt familiar and forgiving of the technique for wider audiences it’s a little less engaging. The standard conventions would be to go fully one way or t’other, but this would of course result in either Scary Movie 3 or Dawn of the Dead so perhaps we ought to be thankful Pegg chose his own path.
Many including our own esteemed Disko feared that all of the funny bits would be in the trailer. They’re partially right, but it’s more the case that all of the bits that are trying to be funny are in the trailer. While there’s a low level lightheartedness that pervades most of the film, for long stretches of time you’ll go without a bellylaugh which might not be what you wanted to get out of Shaun of the Dead. This may or may not come as a disappointment, but it’s almost a case for reporting the studio to the Office of Fair Trading under false advertising guidelines.
It’s not that they haven’t tried. Pegg gives as good and reliable a performance as we’d expect from his universally competent telly outings and hopefully this provides a solid basis to catapult onto bigger and better things. None of the cast are unduly irritating apart from when they’re supposed to be and there’s a genuine warmth in many of their relationships, Pegg and Frost in particular. Able support from Bill Nighy amongst the rest of the cast would have resulted in a fairly decent relationship comedy drama, if it weren’t for all these undead folks getting in the way of the ambience.
The quirky and diverse soundtrack provides a neat backdrop for the onscreen shenanigans, and it’s difficult to dislike a film that kicks off with The Specials’ Ghost Town. The effects as the zombie menace is dealt with via cricket bat / cranium interface are suitably gory yet silly enough to sit comfortably in both the comedy and ‘horror’ camps. The film doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, the characters are believable and well acted, the odd moment of pathos generally complements the situation rather than detracting from it, and for what Pegg and Wright wanted it’s quite difficult to find any solid technical or theoretical reason to criticise it. Yet it’s still not a particularly great film.
Generally picking up decent reviews, it’s left me slightly nonplussed despite being exactly the sort of thing I’d like. I guess that for me at least the genres don’t mix in quite this mix, leaving a chalky sediment that hampers the enjoyment of a potentially very fine cinematic cocktail. It never particularly engaged me on any of it’s levels, reducing the impact of the film to a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. I don’t want to give a false impression, it’s an enjoyable enough movie for your fiver and I can’t image too many people walking out feeling too cheated, even though humour be a fickle mistress. It’s just not quite as funny as I hoped, as dramatic as I’d hoped, or as good as I’d hoped. Despite the great hook of being ‘A romantic comedy. With zombies’, it just doesn’t land my particular movie-going herring. Still, in the ‘backhanded compliment’ section it’s approximately infinitely more worthy of you attention than Gothika.