Shaun of the Dead (2004) – By Timothy Martinez

It seems that over the course of time a new category of film has slowly emerged – the horror/comedy. Now, don’t get me wrong, in most cases I enjoy such films. I just seem to have a problem with the comedy portion. See, it seems to me that in the vast majority of cases in recent years, the comedy is manifested by the characters spouting off an endless stream of one liners, or through the use of a single character which is obviously meant to be “goofy” comic relief. In truth I have no problem with either approach, but it still seems the easy path to take. It is rare when the comedy in such a film is derived from examining the situation itself that the characters find themselves in, the characterizations or both. Now, along comes Shaun of the Dead and masterfully weaves both horror, comedy and a pinch of drama into the mix, to outstanding results.

The film is about Shaun, a twenty-nine year old underachiever who shares a flat with two friends, maintains a dead end job and frequents the same bar every night with his girlfriend Liz and flatmate Ed. His life is about as exciting as watching water boil. Ed is next to useless, spending his days watching TV, playing video games and occasionally selling pot in order to pitch in on expenses. Liz dreams of doing more with her life and expanding her horizons, while Shaun is stuck between the two. A model of complacency, he has no motivation to change anything in his life. Which all changes right after Liz dumps him and London is suddenly overrun with the living (and very much hungry) dead. Now Shaun finds himself rising to meet the challenges before him, becoming a leader and taking real action to affect his existence for the first time in his life.

Inspired very much by George Romero’s living dead trilogy, this film manages to safely tread the thin line between homage and satire. While other projects that try and combine horror and comedy end up looking like cheap Scary Movie clones, this one very much retains it’s own identity while maintaining a level of humor than never descends into sheer idiocy, while keeping a subtle undercurrent of fear and horror throughout the proceedings. Yes, there is gore and zombie action, but it is not used to shock, but rather to drive home the circumstances Shaun and his friends find themselves in.

While Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead commented on modern consumerism by juxtaposing the living dead with the mindless shopping arena of a suburban mall, Shaun seems to aim for a look at a different sort of mindless existence: the dull nine-to-five existence that consumes so much energy from so many of us, and which leads us into a life of complacent acceptance of our situation. At one point Shaun adamantly insists that he is only twenty-nine, the thought being that he is still young and can do things with his life, but its clear that he has settled and has no real purpose in life to help propel him. The message the movie ultimately makes is one of hope. Yes, change can be made no matter what the circumstances. It is never too late to try.

While British humor may be an acquired taste for some, those who relish such an approach will should find this film funny. Though not uproariously hilarious, it’s humor is often times more subtle and it is frequently up to the viewer to find the humor rather that have it beaten over the audience’s skull like in overblown Hollywood efforts. Those looking for a straight up zombie/horror film should look elsewhere. Yes there are some great zombie scenes, but the focus of the film is not the zombies, it is the character reacting to the zombies – a distinction lost in so many cheap Italian zombie films of years gone by, as well as perhaps the Dawn of the Dead remake from this past year.