Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead ★★★★½

Well that was freakin’ brilliant!

Much like Wong Kar Wai’s Love trilogy, I backed into the Cornetto trilogy in the middle, watched the end, and then came back to the beginning. Fun Fact: Here in the Colonies, a Cornetto is known as a Drumstick. They are also available in at least three flavours.

While I liked the first act of Hot Fuzz, it’s descent into a cliché shoot-em-up third act put me off. I vaguely knew at the time that it was homage to cop / crime films, but I didn’t click with it. I loved The World's End and its dandy mix of buddy film come sci-fi. Shaun of the Dead, however, is in a league of its own.

I’m not well enough versed in Romero’s work to catch all of the allusions, but I never felt that I wasn’t in on the joke. I think the reason that Shaun of the Dead succeeds is that it is simultaneously very clever and very simple minded. However it’s never too clever for its own good, and never to simple minded that it elicits a groan. It’s also honest and earnest. There’s not a tongue-in-cheek to be seen, and it’s not reaching for laughs at every turn. When the laughs come, they come completely honestly. The absurdity of Shaun being oblivious when the invasion begins is enough to keep a half cocked on your face for the duration of the first act.

There are so many fantastic little moments that when strung together have a synergistic result. Some moments small, like Ed's ‘I’ve Got Wood’ t-shirt, ( being Settlers of Catan fans, my wife and I burst out laughing when we noticed that one ), to ones more elaborate, like the wonderful ‘channel changing’ montage, and the ‘meeting of the tribes’. The thing about it though is that they don’t look like set pieces being strung together, they harmoniously flow with the interconnecting elements in the story.

While the screenplay and direction are both brilliant, it’s all for naught if you don’t have the cast. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have effortless chemistry and timing; this is afforded by the kind of familiarity that can only come from working together for years. Kate Ashfield, as Shaun’s fed up girlfriend Liz is the foundation on which all the other characters are built. Hers was probably the least fun to play, as she didn’t get to indulge in much comic fun, but, was absolutely essential to keeping the story on the straight and narrow. Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran are the perfect counter to Shaun’s place in life, and pull off copybook performances of the love to hate couple. And has Bill Nighy ever not been amazing?

One of the things I alluded to earlier was honesty. In the end that’s why I think Shaun of the Dead is brilliant. Honesty still allowed it to be fun, and have a small nod and wink here and there, but honesty is what allowed it to shift to suspense, fear, and pathos ( and back again ) seamlessly just when the story needed it. And that Epilogue? Outstanding! Social commentary in 45 seconds flat.

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