Shaun Of The Dead (a title reminding that of Dawn Of The Dead by George Romero) is a 2004 horror comedy directed by Edgar Wright. The English director directed his first low-budget movie, A Fistful Of Fingers, in 1995. Then he worked for a few years on TV shows (particularly noteworthy is the Spaced series, 1999) and then surprised the whole world with his innovative film in a genre that actually needed something new: zombie movies.
In the year of the release of The Dead Don’t Die by Jim Jarmusch it seems to me quite appropriate to talk about the zombie comedy that started the genre, a genre with very few good films so far. Basically, I count among them this one and Zombieland (2009), a film whose sequel is scheduled for October 2019: Zombieland: Double Tap.
Shaun Of The Dead is the first of the so-called Cornetto trilogy, with the other two installments being Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013). All these movies (as well as his other works: Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, 2010, and Baby Driver, 2017) present some common elements: intelligent humor, tight editing, excellent actors with good chemistry between them (above all the duo made by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), finely tuned scripts and unstoppable plots. What makes these three films a trilogy, although in a fairly flexible way since each movie can be seen independently from the other two? The common theme is the following: take a typically Hollywood genre (zombie, police action and science fiction) and bring it to a British dimension, gradually increasing the territorial focus (first London, then a rural town, and finally a pub).
In Shaun Of The Dead, here we are in London together with Shaun (Simon Pegg), a guy who spends his days playing videogames with his friend Ed (Nick Frost), working in a small supermarket, and going out with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) and other friends in the same old pub, The Winchester. One day she has enough of him, and all he can do is getting drunk with Ed. But before going to bed he decides that it’s time to set things straight and he makes a list of things to get back on track! The only problem is that there’s a zombie outbreak during the night, so he must recover his relationship with Liz as the leader of a group of survivors that includes, among others, his friend Ed, and his mother (Penelope Wilton) with her current companion (the always funny Bill Nighy).
As a comedy, the film works perfectly: comedic timing is perfect to the millisecond, and there are both small jokes and absolutely hilarious and memorable situations. For example, think of the scene in which Shaun wakes up with a hangover, goes to the supermarket, and goes back home without even realizing that there’s a zombie apocalypse around him! And what about the killing of the first undead by Shaun and Ed in the courtyard by shooting vinyl records chosen among the worst ones of the collection! The rescue of the mother and her partner with his sarcastic comments on her son is also very funny.
More in general, the rhythm of the film is furious, there’s not a second to get bored, unless Wright wants to convey the boredom of Liz who cannot stand being in The Shotgun anymore. The directorial style is very dynamic with an incredible use of editing. Think for example of the different action plans visually displayed with fast cuts to highlight their differences for comic purposes! And the script is truly brilliant, everything works out perfectly! For example, Shaun’s list to put his life back together is nothing but the list of the things that are happening later in the movie.
Finally, even the horror part of Shaun Of The Dead is very respectable: the zombies’ make-up is well done and, above all, the Romerian canons of the genre are all respected! Not only do the zombies move slowly and mostly in groups and are killed by blows to the head, but there’s a good dose of satire and social commentary. Just as in Dawn Of The Dead George Romero mocked unbridled consumerism and liberal capitalism, here Edgar Wright shows that everyone’s a zombie well before the outbreak, as we’re all slaves of our mobile phones and always forming slow-moving and organised rows everywhere we go!
So, the film makes us laugh, of course, but it also make us think like all respectable and good horror movies. In other words, Shaun Of The Dead manages to excel both as a comedy and as a horror film. It’s a victory across the board for Wright who, not surprisingly, is now a respected name in the film industry, though not accustomed to stratospheric box-office results and not a slave to the needs of large production companies and of their serial products (not surprisingly, he was thrown out of the set of the first Ant-Man due to creative differences with the producers). Ciao!