I’ve always thought the ideal zombie movie would depict a world where zombies had found their natural place and things had returned to normal. I always pictured this as a world where all that remains is zombies, hard at work – or more likely staggering about – trying to build a new post-human society. You know, something like we glimpse all too briefly during the opening scene of George Romero’s Land of the Dead. When Andrew Currie wrote and directed Fido, he forgot to ask me for advice and only got part of it right. I’ll forgive him though. What he got right is thoroughly delightful.
The greatest moment in Land of the Dead (which really doesn’t deserve its bad reputation) is when Cholo (John Leguizamo), having been bitten by a zombie and sure to “turn” soon, stops his buddy from shooting him in the head and declares, “I’m going to see how the other half live.” It really makes clear how the zombies are really just us after falling on a bit of misfortune. In Fido, Timmy Robinson (the priceless K’Sun Ray) and his mother Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) seem to be following in Cholo’s footsteps when they defiantly tell their dad/husband Bill (Dylan Baker, one of my favorite actors since his mesmerizing turn in Happiness and just as courageously good here) that they are siding with a zombie. Timmy says, “I’d rather be a zombie than dead.” Helen continues, “Timmy and I are going zombie.”
The premise of Fido is delectably simple. Set in a lovingly evoked 1950s middle-anywhere-America, it poses a what-if scenario where particles from space (what else, genre fans?) have settled on Earth and starting bringing the dead back to life. After the dark years, the zombie war years, a corporation called Zomcon and a brilliantly mad-looking scientist named Dr. Geiger (yes, you read that right) have found a way to restore order by domesticating the legions of walking, flesh chomping ghouls. Something resembling shock collars for dogs are placed around their necks that, when activated, render them as docile as the little curly mutt sleeping in my lap as I type this. The zombies become citizens – decidedly second-class – performing much needed roles in society. They are crossing guards. They carry groceries. They mow lawns. And my favorite: They wave to motorists as they pass a sign welcoming them to the town of Willard.
That’s the setup actually. The bulk of the story involves the Robinson family’s adding of a zombie to their household – later named Fido by Timmy – and all the ups and downs that ensue as relationships are formed between Fido as his new owners. You could say that Fido is like a new-fangled boy and his dog story by way of E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial with Fido representing something different to each member of the Robinson family. To Timmy, he’s a much-needed friend and protector. To Helen, he offers romance for a lonely, neglected, stay-at-home housewife. To Bill, he’s a comparatively virile threat. (Not a good thing when you are less of a man than a zombie.) This E.T., and generally all things Spielberg, evocation is made explicit when a startled Fido backs into some shelves sending their contents tumbling and clattering about and when a “scary” moment (no moment is really scary in Fido) is framed against a huge telephoto shot of a full moon.
Fido clearly aims to be a satire. To this end, it is hit or miss. It hits its targets, but the targets are too obvious, and too obviously hard to miss.
From the very start, during a lovingly crafted classroom educational film like those Cold War “duck and cover” films, Currie makes it clear that he’s taking shots at the Bush administration’s response to 9/11. The film within a film is titled A Bright New World and focuses on Zomcon’s protection of the “homeland.” The head of Zomcon and “decorated hero of the zombie wars” Mr. Bottoms then tells the kids, “We’re going to take everybody’s picture, just in case one of you gets lost.” When Timmy expresses uncertainty, Bottoms tells him, “This isn’t a world where we guess, young man. You either know something or you don’t.” (Yes, that’s all pretty blunt. Fortunately, it plays a bit better than it reads.)