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Shaun of the Dead (Frank's Take)

02/11/2004. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Shaun of the Dead in the USA - or Buy Shaun of the Dead in the UK

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The devilishly dandy flesh-eating farce Shaun of the Dead certainly fits the bill as a monstrously subversive parody that delivers the ghoulish goods. With its British-oriented sense of stinging wry wit coupled with some truly genuine gloomy gumption, Shaun of the Dead is a delightfully sick-minded yet spry frightfest that captures the twisted imagination.

It is very difficult to experience a true riotous effect when it comes to the zombie movie genre. After all, aren’t the majority of these walking dead flicks meant to be cheesy and inherently comical in nature? Well, the devilishly dandy flesh-eating farce Shaun of the Dead certainly fits the bill as a monstrously subversive parody that delivers the ghoulish goods.

With its British-oriented sense of stinging wry wit coupled with some truly genuine gloomy gumption, Shaun of the Dead is a delightfully sick-minded yet spry frightfest that captures the twisted imagination. Uniquely hilarious and horrifying, this sensationalized send-up of zombie flicks would tempt a cannibal to dine on veggies as a compromise. Convincingly crude and flat out hysterical, this fleshy fable would make gory guru George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) simultaneously proud and envious.

For the most part, there has been some decent zombie movies made that have created an entertaining buzz during the past year or so. Danny Boyle’s riveting 28 Days was atmospheric, intelligent and riveting in its dark seediness. Plus, this year’s Dawn of the Dead remake was pleasantly passable and thoroughly involving. But the roguish Shaun of the Dead has the distinctive triple threat of being a true and blue “3-F” candidate (funny, frightening, and frivolous).

Writer-director Edgar Wright and co-writer/Shaun star Simon Pegg concoct an inventive and cleverly shrewd scare tactic spectacle that resonates with absolute giddy charm. Along with the invaluable assistance of cinematographer David M. Dunlap’s tenacious touch behind the camera lens, there’s a penetrating look and feel to this zany zombie romp that’s both cheeky and chilling in forethought.

The handlers maintain a remarkable balance as the material knows how to use its seriocomic effect to perfection. The turmoil is often ribald if not pleasingly subtle at times. And the loopy laughs do pour out flowingly much like a river of blood from a zombie’s missing eye socket. Hands down, Shaun of the Dead belongs with Romero’s trilogy of masterful zombie films as one of the best skin-snacking cinema bits to ever hit the creepy consciousness of horror-harboring worshipers everywhere.

Twenty-nine-year old underachiever Londoner Shaun (Simon Pegg) is the unlikely hero of our terrifying tale. He leads what is perhaps an arbitrary existence as a slacker-in-waiting. He has a not-too-exciting-job working at an electronics store and basically goes through the everyday ho hum motions. On the homefront, things aren’t that encouraging as well.

Shaun lives with fellow housemate Ed (Nick Frost), a plump and pointless unemployed drug-induced hanger-on whose only vices consist of constantly playing mindless video games or frequenting the local pub The Winchester with his buddy Shaun. In associating with lump-on-the-log Ed, Shaun is routinely stunting his own growth as a responsible adult that needs to grow up and start searching for an ambitious bone in his bored body.

When contending with the sluggish influence of Ed’s irresponsible ways, Shaun also has to deal with his demanding but sensible girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) who insists that he get his act together and ditch the slovenly Ed if he knows what is good for him. Thus, Shaun has to choose between the leisurely lunkhead Ed and stay content in his permanent stagnation or adhere to Liz’s challenge to abandon the listlessness of his livelihood and venture beyond the self-imposed foolishness. Just what will Shaun do to rescue himself from such a delirious dilemma that concerns his ambivalence toward adulthood? Better yet, will Shaun be a little more creative in treating his galpal Liz to a better time than hanging out with her at the claustrophobic Winchester?

Soon, Wright’s edgy exposition will tap into its sardonic overtones. As the audience deals with agonizing Shaun’s disillusionment and detachment, we are caught up in more than our perplexed protagonist’s personal conflict. Very steadily, the camera focuses its winking eye on the other sources of disillusionment and detachment going on that surrounds an indifferent Shaun.

Curiously, we witness the strange hypnotic habits of random people looking dazed and confused as they begin to exhibit emptiness in their stoic approach to performing what was considered previous animated tasks in their daily living. Workers, commuters, street punks, lovers—they’re all engaged in a slow-moving ritualistic glazing that restricts the usual norm of this community’s functioning. Robotic movements from blank-faced citizens and the flaming vehicles in the sordid streets of London aren’t registering at all with the aloof Shaun. The disconnection of Shaun’s emotional baggage is so alarmingly ridiculous because he doesn’t even realize that the society around him is completely off the mark in normalcy.

Shaun of the Dead is a glorious goof on the rigid standards of stiff-lipped British protocol and the raucous results of what happens when the corruptive forces of cannibalism offsets its prim and proper societal structure. It’s profanely absurd and deliciously disturbing to see how something as grim and ghastly could go unnoticed as some sort of sham in the way we are conditioned to selfishly be so self-absorbed with our own inner struggles that we ignore the overall mass-related concerns at hand. The bottom line: it’s how we cope as a collective unit when it comes down to grouping despair and desperation on a wide scale.

Both Wright and Pegg are so observational and insightful about the varying elements of unpredictable human nature well beyond the flesh-ripping platitudes. Maybe it’s that suggestive British sense of humor—the caustic comedy of having English middle-class bystanders immersed in such misery and macabre mayhem while coping with other dimensions of angst that is just too hilarious for words.

It is so clear and calculating to see how inspired these wacky British horror-comedy collaborators were in their ode to celebrating the high-minded savagery of George A. Romero’s bonus blood-thirsty showcases. The wicked joke at hand is indeed a visceral, horrific hayride to say the least—the brain-bashing tendencies of having slow-walking body part beasts munch on human ham sandwiches is a deadpan humorous metaphor for how lost we really are as misguided people with fragile psychological shells as protected armor.

As a slap-in-the-face blood-splattering commentary, Shaun of the Dead is harsh but perversely hearty in its crass convictions. The filmmakers behind Shaun are widely known to English television audiences thanks to the flaky sitcom Spaced (Wright directs the televised comedy; Pegg and Frost star in it).

The spunky social satire is infectious and the zombie attacks (and attacking of the zombies) are graphic yet occasionally tongue-in-cheek. This is one zany zombie campaign that’s smart, engaging, and percolates with zesty personality. Showing folks being devoured like a hotdog at a sporting event is utterly insane in the free-spirited manner that is so casually comfortable.

The performances are exceptional especially with Pegg as the disengaging Shaun who seems so trapped yet oddly content in his dubious day-to-day quagmire. With the big 3-0 around the corner and life seeming like a staid chain of moments where his exasperated girlfriend and uncouth pal surround him in the familiar comforts of his safety net drinking hole, Pegg’s Shaun is the epitome of a lost guy in an unshakable rut.

When Shaun actually snaps out of his nagging funk and starts to care about something when combating the overzealous zombies that he previously dismissed due to his inner strife, it’s then that his woeful life becomes fueled with urgent meaning and purpose. Shaun is hapless and hopeless but he wants to shake things up a bit if only facing a new phase in his being wasn’t so daunting. Surprisingly, Shaun steps up to the plate. And in doing so, he shows some savvy as a spontaneous leader of this magnified crisis.

The supporting players are effectively exhilarating in their contributions as well. Frost’s Ed is the consummate loser/lackey that wears his dishonorable badge with pride. Ashfield’s Liz plays the suffering companion with the right amount of pathos. Penelope Wilton (Calendar Girls) and Bill Nighy (Love Actually) are joyously on cue as Shaun’s mother and stepfather. And who can forget the flesh fiends in the film that put on their bloody best behavior as carcass-eating creatures wandering the uncontrollable London alleys.

The verdict is in about the rollicking Shaun of the Dead—you’ll have an outrageous experience being cozy with the outlandish participants that make up this weird wonderland of flesh-and-blood. This is one exhaustingly compelling vehicle that you can literally sink your teeth into! With the intentional pun intended, Shaun and his cannibalistic cohorts will truly get under your skin.

Frank Ochieng

(c) 2004 Frank Ochieng

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