When SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) was first released, I had no interest in seeing it. Living in the states, I had never before heard of Edgar Wright or SPACED (1999). From the title and trailer, I expected something like the SCARY MOVIE parody franchise, which had already worn out its welcome. Still, I worked at Blockbuster (RIP) at the time and was able to take it out for free upon its DVD debut, so I took a chance.
I am happy to say that I was completely and unequivocally wrong with my assumption. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a fabulous love letter to George A. Romero, and hits every mark attempted. It has grown to be one of my favorite films of the 2000s and a comfort go-to movie for me when I’m down.
Simon Pegg is perfect in the role of Shaun. Shaun is bashful, sweet, cute and though self-involved as loyal as they come. He’s the every-man like John McClane (Bruce Willis) in DIE HARD (1988), and when Shaun takes the helm as an unexpected hero, he has the audience in the palm of his hand. He’s our underdog and we love him.
Shaun’s faults are as endearing as his attributes. The length of time it takes him to realize that he is in the middle of a zombie epidemic is crazy, but easily forgiven. He’s in love, and his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) broke up with him; not that she was without reason.
It’s evident that Liz adores him, but she’s frustrated. She wants Shaun to live up to his potential and wants more for herself as well. She also isn’t thrilled about the amount of time Shaun spends with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost).
Ed is a complicated character for a few reasons. Frost had to portray him irritating enough so Liz didn’t come across as a bitch for hating him, but lovable enough where we understood Shaun’s affection and loyalty. This is done expertly by balancing the obscene, greedy and disgusting manner of Ed with a fierce protective and loving side. When he screams, “We’re coming to get you, Barbara” in regards to Shaun’s mother, it isn’t just a fabulous homage to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), but also a glimpse into the selfless side of Ed.
Then there’s David (Dylan Moran). God, I loathe David! I know that’s the point and kudos to Dylan Moran for playing the role so flawlessly, but still – I hate that motherfucker! I don’t understand what the RAWR-tastic Dianne (Lucy Davis) ever saw in that pud. David is pretentious, manipulative and self-righteous. His true cowardly nature reveals itself far before his demise, which I always cheer for.
Dianne, on the other hand, is just beautiful. I love her. She’s quirky and funny, but I’ll never understand why she settled for such a loser. I don’t think she ever was given the opportunity for a defined and full arc, which would have been very welcome. Admittedly, I have a super crush on Lucy Davis and desperately want to see her in a movie where she’s getting it on with Tom Hiddleston, but enough about my fantasies.
The conclusion is rock solid and filled with excitement, laughs, a few jumps and some unexpected tears. I think that’s what initially surprised me the most about SHAUN OF THE DEAD. There’s so much heart in it. Whether it’s regret over the way he treated his stepfather Philip (Bill Nighy), breaking down over the loss of his mother (Penelope Wilton) or the moments when he gave into self-doubt, Pegg brought us inside. We hurt for Shaun, we understood him, and we desperately wanted him to succeed in both surviving and winning back Liz.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a horror-comedy in the best way. It exemplifies what the genre should be and what movies in the genre should aspire to. The jokes hit hard, the tension is built at just the right pace, the characters have depth and the casting is topnotch.
For the few who haven’t seen this, I cannot recommend it enough.