Giving new meaning to Sunday Bloody Sunday is the cross-the-pond gem, Shaun of the Dead, a comedic tale of man thrown into perilous times.
Hailed as a descriptively tasty "rom-com-zom", the hybrid genre film definitely piqued my interest from jump street, breezily wearing its, dare I say, Zombedy (get it - Zombie/Comedy) label proudly. There's a little something for everyone, a cool soundtrack, laughs, cries, and everything in between. Smoothly able to merge such unlikely, compatible sources, the romantic-comedy-zombie film never panders, always including the audience in on the joke.
There's an honesty not seen in many films today. And truthfully, even though I've long enjoyed British films, there hasn't been anything quite like this in a while. Not that this is entirely new to American audiences used to such B-movie fare common on a plethora of late night cable-satellite stations.
In his own personal oasis of North London, Shaun (Simon Pegg), pushing thirty, is an incorrigible underachiever stuck in a rut when his life begins to crumble. Here's a taste of his world: his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) gives the lifelong bachelor an ultimatum, his friends are hardly true friends (Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran), he hates his mother's husband (Bill Nighy), his third roommate is an anal bastard loathe to loud late night music and Shaun constantly leaving the front door open. Not to mention his electronic store job offering little solace from his haplessly mundane existence. At least Ed (Nick Frost) is there, always by his side.
But today is different right? A new day.
What's utterly gleeful is the national emergency which breeds flesh-eating zombies. Itís just the shake up Shaun needs to spin his life toward a positive direction.
Relationships are strengthened. A new personal moxie is discovered as the lovable loser turns into a fearless leader in this crazed moment of crisis.
It's Z-day - as something is amiss. Shaun, home from work, loses his sanity over all hell breaking loose in his seemingly simple world. Finally dumped by Liz, Ed helps him bury his pain in pints of lager. Of course Ed is an even bigger but just as lovable loser. Pot-seller/smoker, unemployed, roommate from hell, Edís the type of guy who prides himself on orangutan imitations from Any Which Way But Loose, and juvenile fart jokes.
After the drunken night, the pair finally discover in a hilarious bit what has befallen their fellow North Londoners under a dangerous, zombie assault spell. What exactly caused the zombified situation is a mystery to the boys. One thing for certain, the journey takes us in quite a different tone than the George Romeo trilogy or the more recent, successful remake Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later.
This is a good thing, the film is neither so campy as to dismiss nor scary/violent enough to call pure horror. Definitely a welcome pace. And fans of Peter Jackson's overly gory Dead or Alive or Return of the Living Dead will eagerly eat up such fare.
In the meantime, Shaun rallies the troops to make a daring rescue of his newly ex-girlfriend, mum, stepdad (well, maybe not him), and friends - all in hopes of holing up in his favorite local pub, the Winchester.
His hopes are almost perfectly realised, but of course, the plan hits various speed bumps in the process. All is performed under a blanket of witty sarcasm, verbal wordplay, comedic timing, satire, and episodes of seriousness.
The cornucopia of emotions helps steer the lean storyline in the right direction. Interspersed are all the emotions: tender sadness, slapstick comedy, comedy splashes of all types for that matter, on top of economically drawn but multidimensional characters.
Whenever the film starts to swirl down the drain, a trump card is continually pulled, adding a new note to the cinematic pop song. We even get a stellar Mexican standoff to make Tarantino proud.
The film is aptly described by director Edgar Wright, as a "Valentine to 70s/80s Horror/Romeo films." Itís an early sweetheart kiss to audiences exploring beyond the wall of a comic book- stacked summer fading to a close.
Thereís a loose, self-effacing, jousting feel to the humor which is punctuated by emotionally stark realism. A dead serious tone, although a bit out of place for such a lighthearted film, is always heartfelt and that is a telling fact when compared to all the false or forced emotional beats in many films today.
This film is a bloody good time. Therefore, Iíll let you enjoy its discovery by revealing little in terms of specific comedic moments. I will say this. For screenwriters thereís a technique used, to "setup and payoff" all types of visual, dialogue, or thematic reveals. The film is textbook in its abundance of nicely built setup/payoffs which arrive at a furious pace. Keep an eye out for these setup/payoffs in terms of both, visually and verbal.
As the director and actors had the audience eating out of their hands during a introduction at the filmís screening, it was easy to understand how the intelligence, humor, and wittiness of its creators helped pull off such an indie feat. And lucky for American audiences, no partisan worries here, unless youíre partial to fast moving zombies rather than the slow moving variety in many films, movement more akin to the true definition, according to the filmís director. A poll called upon by the filmís trio before the film rolled debated the issue. And trust me from Blade 2 to Resident Evil, zombies are back in vogue.
Everyone may think the romance between Shaun and Liz is the thread, but for fans of male bonding, the film adds a special flavor by leaving open the possibility that the real love is between the best buds. Not my words, these are words spoken directly off the lips of the filmís creators, as they so eagerly pointed out.
I must admit that while the humor was cute, it was not sidesplitting or face hurting for me. However, if the reaction of many of those howling in the audience is any indication, the film will certainly find resounding success on American shores.
Finally, with wonderful use of a source music-laced soundtrack (like The Specials) and a timely placed Bertrand Russell quote: ďthe only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperationĒ - how could you go wrong?
© by Julian Boyance, finished on September 1, 2004
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