For those of you familiar with the excellent UK TV comedy series, Spaced, then the format of the humourous zombie flick, Shaun of the Dead, will be familiar territory. The co-writer, Simon Pegg, plays the unheroic Shaun – a 29-year-old caught in a rut of working in retail, and going to the local pub, The Winchester, for drinks every night with his flatulent friend, Ed (Nick Frost), and his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield).
Liz doesn’t care for a future of endless nights down the pub, and her friends David (Dylan Moran) and Dianne (Lucy Davis) don’t care for her boyfriend. She dumps Shaun just before the zombies take over London. The group of late 20-somethings have to come up with a plan to fend off the shambling flesh-eaters while trying not to kill one another.
The film is delightfully funny, and though the pace lags in a couple of places, it never falters completely. These are old school zombies: mindless, slow, and easily distracted – but once they reach critical mass they are a force to be reckoned with. The film is surprisingly gory in places, with a couple of dismemberment scenes and images of zombies snacking on their human prey. It adds a visceral edge to a film that is played for laughs.
Just as Dawn of the Dead comments on 70s consumer culture, Shaun of the Dead lampoons British pub culture. Before the zombies even invade London, there are shots of glassy-eyed commuters, blank-faced shoppers, and a sense that nobody is really living. Liz is the voice of alarm: she sees the stagnant routine into which Shaun is trapped, and is unwilling spend the rest of her life drinking beer at the local pub every night. When the zombies attack Shaun’s brilliant plan is to hole up in the familiar Winchester pub, but just like in Dawn of the Dead, this proves to be a magnet for the zombies, and in the end it becomes a trap. It is only when the few survivors relinquish their attachment to their local do they finally escape.
There is an unsatisfying deus ex machina device used to save Shaun and Liz towards the end, but this offset somewhat by the last five minutes that detail the aftermath of “Z-Day”, as it is dubbed by the media.
Shaun of the Dead is a low-budget comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and even manages a couple of poignant moments in between the zombie bashing (a cricket bat is the weapon of choice against the undead). This will be one for the DVD collection.