Shaun of the Dead review by The Grim Ringler

The hell of this review is that I cannot give it the numerical review it deserves because, as a friend pointed out, I gave the equally brilliant 28 Days Later an eight, or thereabouts, so to give this film a nine would be a bit wrongheaded. But when I say that this is the funniest and most engaging zombie film in quite a while, I do not say it lightly. I loved the remake of Dawn of the Dead, and while I gave it an eight as I will give this film, they are completely different films. It would be hard to say which is better as DotD is completely serious and very bleakly so, and as such a film; it fits the general tradition of horror and zombie films quite well. But with SotD you have an amalgam of horror and British comedy (not as obvious, usually, or normal as American humor) that has been mixed with such love and admiration for the films that came before it that, if you are a fan of the genre or of well made, weird films, you cant help but love this film. When I say that this is a film best seen in theaters, I mean it, if for no other reason that to show that Americans can get and understand this kind of film and that we appreciate films that arent the run of the mill. Who woulda thunk that wed get at least two very damn good zombie movies in 2004?

Shaun of the Dead focuses on Shaun, a twenty-nine year old man floating through life as if he is still in college. He is content, if not happy, has a job, a girl, and a best friend hes had since childhood. Everythings swell. Swell that is until his girlfriend of three years ends their relationship on the grounds that he has no real ambition and is too tied to his friend a fun but shiftless pot dealer to live his own life. Unfortunately for Shaun, losing his gal is the least of his problems. It seems that while Shaun and Ed, his roommate, have been drinking heavily after the breakup the recently dead have begun rising up and attacking the living. A fact they might have known were they not either drinking or playing video games the entire day. When it does dawn on them that the dead have risen, after finding that the strange woman in their backyard is not drunk but indeed dead, Ed and Shaun, shovel and cricket bat in hand, are men of action. Deciding upon a plan save Shauns mom, then save his girl, then off to the pub and safety the two spring into action. Things get a bit complicated though when Shauns stepfather (NOT his real dad) turns out to still be human, though only slightly so, after having been bitten by a zombie. Rats. Ed and Shaun decide to take mum and dad, as well as their fancy Jag, and then head off to pick up Lizand her roommates, who have never been big fans of either Shaun or Ed. As they head towards safety the Winchester, their favorite pub things begin to slowly unravel, and by the time they reach their destination the makeup of their party of survivors has altered and so has the reality of the situation theyre doomed. But Shaun, determined to prove everyone wrong and show he can be determined, motivated, and heroic, refuses to give up, even as the situation only worsens, leaving even he to wonder if any of their struggle was worth it.

What makes Shaun of the Dead such a wonderful film for me is that the zombies are incidental to the happenings. The crux of the story is that Shaun feels like a loser and wants to prove himself and the rest of the world wrong. The zombies just offer him that opportunity. The film works, as 28 Days Later does, because you get invested in the characters and care about them and what happens to them. The cast is wonderfully put together and seems to be an amalgam of British television personalities (you cant even know how giddy my friends and I were to see most of the cast of Black Books on hand in this film) and each one creates a very distinct, very interesting character. And none of these characters is truly one you can hate outright, even the cad of the bunch, who in the end is just a pathetic guy thats also in love with Shauns recent ex. It also helps that Shaun has such a strong script behind it to make this movie more than the typically bleak zombie gut muncher. The comedy here, and there is loads, happens naturally, something a lot of American COMEDIES fail to allow happen, and certainly a rarity in the horror genre, and never feels as if they were pushing too hard. Most of the gags are situational and happen because some of the characters refuse to alter who they are and what they are about despite the fact that its a zombie holocaust. Its also a desperately fun film if you are a fan of this sub-genre because there are more references in sound, scene, and mention to other zombie films and their makers than I can shake a brainpan at. The direction is assured and never gets in the way of the actors or the film, yet adds enough flow and style to create a new experience in a pretty well worn genre. The editing and music choices are simply wonderful. Its all too easy nowadays for filmmakers to call a record label and have them get some songs together for a soundtrack, whether the songs fit the film or not, and it has become sort of an art lately in order to pick appropriate songs for films. Not so with Shaun, behind some assured editing and great art direction, the music is yet another sign that this is a film made not just by fans of the horror genre, but fans of music as well, and they have created a very strong soundtrack that even plays a part in the onscreen happenings. The zombies here are actually very well done also, going for a sort of middle ground that is closer to reality than some films the zombies are recently dead and thus not many are that messed up, though you do get some real ghouls in the bunch. And hell, the film even has some moments of pretty hardcore gore, which rocks socks in my book.

The biggest knock I can give the film is that it clings too tightly to the notions of the past and the idea that its homage. No new ground is broken as far as the plot or the zombies and their origins go, and the filmmakers are content to place their focus on the characters. Which works, and doesnt hurt the film at all, but it would have been interesting if they had tried to come up with some new ideas or images. I cant believe that this is truly a sub-genre, like werewolf and vampire films, that has reached a dead end as far as new ideas, but well wait and see. This was the biggest knock I could find though, and honestly, its a bit of niggling to pick on it.

Touching, heartfelt, and gory as hell, this is one of the best movies of the summer and is one that deserves to find an American audience. This has the potential to find one though because it is so very funny. This is truly one of those films that as soon as I had seen it was dying to see it again already. I cant recommend this film enough, to fans of the genre, to newbies, and to lovers of just well made comedies, friends, lets give some love to Shaun and Ed.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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