It is rare that a film made in tribute to a genre is considered
great. Few thought Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks”
was a classic and, for all the cameos, the “Dawn of the
Dead” remake was a shadow of its former self. As so often
happens, though, two British filmmakers accomplish the unthinkable
in the horror-comedy “Shaun Of The Dead.”

Eston Bond
Stop. Collaborate and listen.

Paying homage to the pantheon of zombie films that preceded
“Shaun,” director Edgar Wright and star/writer Simon
Pegg (both formerly of the cult British TV show
“Spaced”) successfully mix brutal and frightening
horror with dark comedy.

Having recently broken up with his girlfriend (Kate Ashfield,
“Beyond Borders”), Shaun (Pegg) wanders home, oblivious
to the budding plague of zombies in his North London neighborhood.
He wakes up the next morning, hung over and exhausted from a night
of Playstation-induced debauchery with his slovenly
friend/roommate, Ed (“Spaced’s” Nick Frost), and
discovers a backyard full of slow zombies, only slightly more dim
witted than Shaun and Ed. Determined to rescue his ex-girlfriend
and mother, Shaun treks through an infested neighborhood with his
friends and family to the local pub, hoping to escape the horror
and have a few pints while he’s at it.

“Shaun’s” brilliance lies not in its ability
to work as a horror film or a comedy, but in its near-perfect
synthesis of the two genres at all times. Never is a frightening
moment not without its comedy and vice-versa. At one point, the
survivors are invaded by a horde of zombies while Queen’s
“Don’t Stop Me Now” blares on the jukebox. Every
time “Shaun” looks as though it could nosedive into a
trite horror film, Wright and Pegg break the mold and throw in a
surprise or two.

Wright and the actors do incredibly well reminding the viewer
not to take the film too seriously. While George Romero used the
“Dead” trilogy as an avenue for social commentary,
Wright wishes only to express his love for zombie films and the
film is remarkably well-balanced in that regard, remaining focused
on producing laughs and frights throughout its duration. The
film’s lone foray into the realm of satire is a clever
montage of workaholic Londoners going about their weekday commute
as though they were, in fact, zombified. With the nonstop barrage
of gags and gore, Wright stresses his interest in making a funny
horror film, and he succeeds.

Gore and gratuitous violence, which have sustained zombie films
for so long, are not absent from the film, in spite of the
filmmakers’ success at making “Shaun” remarkably
hilarious. To preserve the balance between shock and comedy,
though, the use of gore is more subtle. Of course, there are all
the disembowelments and decapitations one would come to expect, but
they’re filmed in a clever way: Partially hidden from the
viewer, once again proving that what isn’t seen is often
scarier than what is. As Shaun and his band of survivors attempt to
walk to the pub, they see, distorted by a fence, a school
headmaster being gnawed at by former students. Because of the
fence, though, the viewer can’t exactly tell what’s
going on, and that uncertainty is a source of fear throughout the
film.

The filmmakers’ passion for the genre is another of the
movie’s driving forces. For all their tributes to Romero and
the Italian zombie films of the ’70s, Wright and Pegg strive
to reinvent the genre while remaining true to its core. Straying
from the pack of recent zombie films (“28 Days Later,”
the “Dawn of the Dead” remake),
“Shaun’s” zombies are straight out of a Romero
film: slow and dumb but harbingers of creeping death when they
travel in packs. “Shaun” diverts from fawning to its
predecessors, though, by making the protagonists almost as
unintelligent as their foes. Ed and Shaun spend the first night of
the plague drunk and unaware of the creeping infection. The next
day, they spend hours trying to figure out the best means of
killing an approaching zombie before settling on a cricket bat and
Sade LPs.

Ed and Shaun are regular, thick-headed guys with dead-end jobs,
bad taste in music, foul mouths and few redeeming qualities, but
the film works best that way. Much to the delight of zombie
enthusiasts the world over, “Shaun” tells the story of
a zombie epidemic from the perspectives of a pair of
“losers,” putting on the silver screen what many horror
geeks dream about in class, at work and in chat rooms on Saturday
nights. A movie like “Shaun” will never win an Oscar,
but it can easily win the hearts of the masses and for what it is,
it is a brilliant and clever work of art.

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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