Shaun Of The Dead (UK 2004)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 10/17/05
Cast: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy

This entertaining entry in the romantic zombie comedy genre (or rom-zom-com, as a friend of mine put it) pits your everyday middle class loser against a rural zombie outbreak of massive proportions. Shaun (wonderful Simon Pegg) has a dead-end job, a deadbeat housemate (Nick Frost), a relationship with a frustrated girlfriend (Kate Ashfield) that's on the rocks, and an adversarial relationship with his cranky step-father (Bill Nighy). Things go from bad to worse when his girlfriend dumps him and the city starts crawling with the living dead. Determined to save Liz and win back her heart, he braves the shuffling hordes armed only with a cricket bat so that he can rescue her and take her to a safe place. But things never go right for Shaun, and the zombie menace eventually overpowers him and his friends.

First of all, my threshold for comedy is pretty low, and my threshold for romantic comedy is effectively zero. That said, I found the movie to be tolerable, but the first half hour is a very trying and tedious experience. While the comedy elements tend to fall flat, where the film really pays off is in its treatment of the zombie sequences. The film does not parody the zombie genre. In fact, it embraces it fully, and it's clear the filmmakers did their homework regarding the material. The tense survival horror atmosphere offers some of the best the genre has to offer, and the fear and desperation are tangible. Seeing Shaun rise to the occasion amidst the chaos is inspiring, even if his decisions aren't always the best. The eccentric characters and central love story are oddly reminiscent of Peter Jackson's off-kilter gorefest "Braindead" (1992), but the execution is more in the vein of George Romero's classic zombie movies. It's really nice to see a film stay true to traditional zombie lore, as so many recent efforts have reinvented zombies to be fast, agile, semi-intelligent, strong, superhuman killing machines instead of mindless reanimated corpses in search of human flesh. The film doesn't capitalize on special effects, but there are several zombie effects that are truly spectacular. The acting is extremely good, and Simon Pegg turns in a fabulous multi-layered performance. His anguish and despair seem all too real, as does his numbingly mundane existence.

While I initially didn't like "Shaun Of The Dead," it has certainly grown on me in the 24 hours since I saw it. I originally avoided seeing it at the theater because the previews were so awful. Leave it to the American marketing wizards at Universal to cut a trailer that contains all of the worst scenes in the entire movie. A more incompetent trailer could hardly be made, with the possible exception of the absurd American trailer for John Woo's "The Killer" (1989). What a ridiculous mess THAT was. It's all rather unbelievable, really.