Monday, October 3, 2011

Shaun of the Dead

Is there anyone out there who doesn't love October? The weather is awesome and all our thoughts tend to drift to Halloween, one of the best holidays ever. Lots of other people out there are celebrating the month with horror themes and some are even performing the daunting task of doing a new review every day of the month! I'm not even going to attempt to do that, but since Halloween is a Monday this year, I thought it would be fun to do a different horror movie review every Monday. Since the genre is quite large, I decided to narrow it down to horror comedies and pick one for each of the last five decades. As you can probably tell by the title of this post, I'm not going in chronological order.

I was first exposed to Shaun of the Dead when I was still being a complete wimp about horror. After hurricane Katrina I was staying in a camp house that had been graciously offered to my family as a place to stay in the two weeks before we were allowed to go back home. It was in a fairly remote location, as most camp houses are, and could have been the setting of a horror movie itself, with the bayou right behind the length of camp houses that was sure to contain alligators and one rickety bridge you held your breath as you drove over to get to the nearest grocery store. The cable was also terrible. I don't know if it was stolen from a neighbor or just that the lines were that bad in the area, but we watched the news in faded colors and wobbly lines. We were obviously forced to occupy our time with other things, and beyond the one and only Monopoly game I've ever finished in my life, I believe my brother actually went and bought a cheap DVD player on one of our excursions into town. I bought the first season of Lost and watched it all in one weekend, and he had gotten Shaun of the Dead.

I was apprehensive to watch it, but he assured me there was only one really gross scene, and he would let me know when it was coming. I am so glad I didn't chicken out. I absolutely love this movie. It's hilarious, has a great story arc, and is surprisingly emotional in parts. Start to finish, it's just a beautifully well done movie.

What makes this movie so strong is that at the heart of it, it's about a guy (named Shaun, obviously) who has let himself sort of coast through life up to this point at the age of 29, and is now being forced to pull himself together and make a plan for his future. It just so happens that the night his girlfriend dumps him for having no direction is also the night the zombie apocalypse happens. Shaun gets to prove himself by trying to keep her and their group of friends alive through the chaos.

As much as I love this movie, I hadn't watched it for quite awhile before I watched it again for the review. I'm actually happy about that, as the jump scares (most of which are legitimate and not at all cheap) still got me. It was also fun for me that I've now seen Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, so that both the line "We're coming to get you, Barbara!" and that one gross scene in the film had a lot more meaning to me this time around.

Edgar Wright shows here what he proved later with both Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, that he is truly a lover of film and knows how to pay tribute to genre, all while injecting it with a great amount of humor. I love his quick camera cuts to move the plot along and I love the music choices throughout as well.

One of the best things about the movie for me is the way it approaches the idea of a zombie apocalypse from such a realistic level. Showing us how people resemble zombies on the first day is not only funny, but true, and it makes sense when Shaun doesn't truly notice what is going on once the zombies are there. Since we're watching a film, we know right off the bat that the strange woman in Shaun's backyard would be a zombie. But if you found someone staggering around your backyard, wouldn't you assume they were drunk too? And then of course, there's the matter of what do you use to disable them? I love that they grab all manner of objects from inside the house, desperate to find something, anything, that might hurt the zombies. What albums would you refuse to part with? I certainly wouldn't give up the few Beatles records I have.

The realism leads to something that is a nice change of pace for these types of films - for the most part, you're not yelling at the characters for doing something incredibly stupid. Of course Shaun will want to leave his safe zone to rescue his mother and the woman he loves. It's natural for his mother to insist on taking along his stepdad, even though we all know what's going to happen to him. Speaking of, Bill Nighy is just fantastic here. He plays an excellent jerk, and then in that last moment before he turns, he really does make you sympathize with the character and feel for him. Penelope Wilton is also great as Shaun's mother, and her later "I didn't want to be a bother" moment is just absolutely heartbreaking. I don't think you go into a slapstick horror comedy expecting to get so attached to characters as you do here, and it's a really refreshing change. Even characters designed to annoy you have enough human elements to feel like real people. I can't heap enough praise on the entire cast for pulling this off so well.

I think my absolute favorite part of the movie, and I'm sure I'm not alone, is the "Don't Stop Me Now" fight/dance scene. It is at once absolutely hilarious and yet also great action that gets you all jazzed up for the characters.

There is, of course, a fair amount of blood in the movie, but I like that a lot of the really nasty stuff happens off camera. Beyond the fact that it allows you to use your imagination while you hear those sickening thuds and squelching noises, as a movie that is primarily a comedy, a splatterfest isn't really necessary. The one particularly gross scene works well as a parody of Dawn of the Dead, though I'll admit before I knew about that film I didn't see any particular purpose for it.

I think more than anything, this film is a great "gateway drug." If you've got a friend who doesn't like horror, promise to warn them about the gross parts and sit down to watch it with them. I guarantee you they'll be so busy laughing they won't mind. Make it a double feature with Zombieland and afterward they just might be asking you to pull out those other zombie films you own.

6 comments:

  1. I love this movie, of course. I cannot hear "Don't Stop Me Now" without thinking of the scene at the Winchester.

    Another funny thing they have going in this movie is the character named Yvonne, he runs into her on the way home from work and finds out that she's just bought a house (he's still sharing a flat with two other dudes). When he's out trying to get his friends to the Winchester, he crosses paths with her and she's leading her group of strikingly similar friends elsewhere. She also kinda gets this 'really? really.' look on her face when she finds out they're going to the pub. She's also (spoiler spoiler I suppose) responsible for bringing the troops in at the end, ultimately saving Shaun and Liz. She's basically his foil, she makes all the mature and responsible decisions that Shaun doesn't make.

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  2. And both of their groups feature a cast member from the British version of The Office! If poor Dianne had just gone with Yvonne's group, she could have found her true love... :)

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  3. I started watching "The Walking Dead" this past weekend with a friend of mine. There are a few scenes like it but in the fourth episode a group of men are beating a zombie to death in a circle, and he and I immediately started singing "Don't Stop Me Now," because we're amazing.

    It was incredibly inappropriate given the gravity of the scene, and even more impossible to avoid.

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  4. After you made comparisons to BSG this weekend on Twitter, you've got me wanting to watch that show. And of course now when I get to that episode, I will immediately think of this. :)

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  5. I must admit it....I'm kind of sick of Shaun. It's a great movie, for sure, but the zombie craze that's followed it and the people freaking out about it drive me kinda crazy.

    Even though I know it's awesome. I don't know what that means, except that I'm being a contrarian again. Maybe it's just too good of a gateway horror, because the non-horror people are all SHAUN! and I'm all like BUT I WANT CRAZY VIOLENT ZOMBIE ACTION!

    But hey, I dig the review. Made me not sick of it for a moment. :)

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  6. I definitely know what you're talking about. I've never been a fan of zombies to begin with, and the glut lately is absolutely ridiculous. But this movie makes it really hard not to love it. :)

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