89. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Shaun of the Dead

February 8, 2018

Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy
Runtime: 99 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 2004

 

★★★★★

 

Shaun of the Dead is writer/director Edgar Wright’s pre-emptive strike at the heart of the zombie cornerstone of modern horror before it overexposed itself; a striking and hilarious send-up of the films of George A. Romero with all the passionate enthusiasm that comes with it.

 

The Zombies, in this case, have undergone a more generalised but significant analogical change where they don’t represent the consumers, or those adhering to underclass or minorities, but the very essence of our monotonous lives unfolding through routine from cradle to grave.

 

It’s also one of the most intuitive takes on the genre, whereby the cast is a ramshackle group of average joes dealing with this extraordinary situation in such a typically ordinary, human, and British manner as our band of heroes are led by loser Shaun (Simon Pegg) to their favourite pub to wait out the chaos; The Winchester.

 

More or less an extension of the seminal cult television series Spaced, Wright’s direction is pitch perfect at bringing the doomsday horrors into an everyday light. His expertise for timing comedic lines with the punctuation of cuts are unlike anything else in the business, as half of the work of a comedy film comes down to the way that the camera interacts with its environment as much as the performers in front of them spouting dialogue.

 

What a miracle then that the screenplay is utterly hilarious in both its one-liners and situational comedy structure. A common theme of his 'Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy' is the inability of socially awkward modern men being unable to sustain modern relationships because of their attachment to overwrought adolescence. Pegg’s Shaun is the perfect emblem for the pathetic everyman who must become the de facto hero of the hour, while Nick Frost’s Ed is the very definition of the phrase “man-child”, and a literal symptom of Shaun’s unwillingness to grow up.

 

The supporting cast of heavily populated favourites of British television and cinema are all astonishingly good in their roles, all feeling like fleshed out figures with their own inner lives even when just relegated to cameo roles – the best of which being a recurring gag where Shaun and his party keep bumping into their own doppelgangers (led by Spaced co-star Jessica Stevenson) played by more a more prominent cast in a higher budget feature film happening parallel to their own.

 

The horridness of the actual premise rears its head properly in the film’s third act as tragedy strikes and blood begins to flow, tensions rise in the group in an escalating fashion and a hilarious standoff in the pub culminates in a great music cue. The gore is really well-handled and realistically shocking, while the makeup effects for the walking dead throughout the film are no half measures. Every zombie extra looks and sounds as rank and deathly as they should do in any more straight-faced feature.

 

Shaun of the Dead is an impossible balancing act of comedy, horror and romance – a Rom-Zom-Com – that’s a minor wonder of execution and intention that hits all its beats faultlessly.

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