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Shaun of the Dead (2004)

by on 2011/04/21

“It’s on random!”

* * *

I never thought I’d be my own anniversary’s biggest party pooper.

You see, depending on how you count, this review marks my two hundredth article for It’s a review of a movie I saw years ago, in its original theatrical release. I thought I’d enjoy it. I should have enjoyed it. I really, truly, desperately wanted to enjoy it…

(Is it any surprise where I’m going with this?)

Yes, where geekdom and comedy coincide, there are few pieces as celebrated as Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. So I dutifully plunked down my hard-earned credit card, and returned from the store with the disc, once again really, truly, and desperately wanting to enjoy it.

Its appeal is unsurprising: a “slow zombie” comedy, excessively gory and violent, and peopled by the cast and crew of the cultish Britcom, Spaced. Bit parts and cameos are supplied by Peter Serafinowicz (Look Around You), Martin Freeman (The Office), and popular rockers, Coldplay.

Still, even a Smiths video, New Order’s “Blue Monday”, and the participation of Underworld’s Bill Nighy can’t quite bring me out of my funk. There are too many drawbacks for me to overcome. Although I’m incapable of finding fault with Simon Pegg as Shaun, his fellow Nick Frost’s Ed is, simply, a dolt. Relentlessly unpleasant, unsympathetic and gross, he’s only the first of several such frustrating roles.

The woman who comes between them, Liz (Kate Ashfield), is a humourless, prickly dud. Her friend, Dianne, benefits from the charms of actress Lucy Davis, but a rival boyfriend, David (Dylan Moran), is nearly malignant enough to scuttle the narrative on his own.

Now, I’m not unaware of all Shaun does well, and I don’t just mean thrills and a laugh. The entire affair is replete with references, a service to fans of the zombie subgenre. Our hero wears a Foree Electric badge, the news media covers a deep space probe crash, and we meet a Bizarro group of protagonists.

Oh and, while I’m mentioning references, I can’t ignore the score. The rhythm tracks and synthetic bass evokes a beating heart, like Dawn of the Dead (1978) by way of John Carpenter. Less prominent than the pop song decorations, it nonetheless binds the whole and places it firmly in a familiar horror context.

Other aspects are less effective. The convention of repeating jokes over and over is itself repeated . . . over and over. Shaun fantasizes about how his plans will turn out, guard duty is passed on, the leads share an “exacerbate” joke, an “it’s on random” joke, and a “you’ve got red on you” joke.

(In fact, if you thrill to a limited pool of jokes used over and over again, you’d do well to see the short-lived series, Man Stroke Woman, which also featured Nick Frost.)

Other spastic stabs at humour often involve chaos and cacophony in excess. Apparently the filmmakers’ idea of “funny” is synonymous with “noise, confusion, and screaming”. One of two contenders for the movie’s lowest point involves Ed bombing around in a tiny car, set to ear-throttling noise, with the passengers losing their minds.

(The other contender is the climactic bar fight.)

Midway through I reminded myself this director also made Scott Pilgrim, which I loved. Unfortunately, the same techniques — particularly in editing — don’t work as well divorced from a video game world.

Long unbroken takes and handheld Steadicam shots are occasionally interrupted with sudden flurries of high-speed montage: the dressing scene, various false starts, and making reservations. Somehow it never succeeds in being more than a failed attempt at hyper-dramatizing the banal to humourous effect.

And, er, the bar fight synched to music by Queen…?

Does a groan really count as a laugh?

Yes, this experience has been a great geek upset for me, not because I hate Shaun of the Dead — which I don’t — but because I didn’t like it as much as I would hope. Clearly I’m in the minority, so colour me disappointed. Yes, it’s somewhat rewarding as a comedic zombie effort, but it’s also a shade chaotic for my taste.

Or maybe it’s not just me. Though we have in the past disagreed on the output of Edgar Wright, a certain someone remarked to me, “I think the zombies from The Walking Dead have a bit more going on.”

* * *

Rated 18A (Canada) / R (United States)

100 minutes

  1. Grushenka Geusebach permalink

    Mr. Renders,

    I must warn you that this heresy against Edgar Wright has been duly noted.

    Mostly, why can’t you love? Why?

    Darn your relentless, vivisecting mind to some kind of heck dimension.

    And mostly, mostly, stop writing so many bloody reviews. It is making some people look bad.


    Are the lights too bright in here?

    I mean, congratulations on your 200th review. You should be very proud.


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