Monday, 2 February 2009

'We're coming to get you Barbara!' - Shaun of the Dead film review

Director - Edgar Wright
Written by - Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
A romantic comedy with zombies?!

Shaun of the Dead is a film that could be classed under many genres, though it has now become the pioneer of the zombie-romantic-comedy genre (or more snappily put "zom-rom-com). While this may seem like a strange and rather pointless genre, it has become an instant cult hit and I think that there should be more!

The film follows our protagonist Shaun, who is dumped by his girlfriend Liz as their relationship is stuck in a rut and he is content to leave it that way. This sounds like a regular romantic comedy situation so far, right? Unfortunately for them this happens in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Shaun and best friend Ed concoct a genius plan to rescue Liz and Shaun’s Mum Barbara, In true horror comedy fashion things are never as easy as planned, and survival is made a little more difficult for Shaun when you throw in Liz’s best friends David and Dianne, and Shaun’s step-father Philip (who he doesn’t get along with.). Hilarity and gore combine to form a laugh-a-minute romp, all with added shuffling and groaning.

Shaun of the Dead is undoubtedly influenced by the works of George Romero, most notably Dawn of the Dead. The zombies in the film are obviously ‘Romero’ zombies - slow moving, groaning and shuffling, rather than the increasingly popular “fast zombie” seen in films like the Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Days Later. This influence is acknowledge in the film by amusing cameo jokes (for example Shaun works at Foree Electronics, and Ken Foree starred in the original Dawn of the Dead), which is often a trademark element of Edgar Wright’s films.

Although it has taken many influences from other zombie films, it also feels like an extension of the TV series Spaced which was also directed by Edgar Wright and starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Edgar, Simon and Nick have worked on several projects together now and seem to have created their own brand of unique comedy. What makes their films work so well is the relationship between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as they are best friends in real-life it is very much believable so it feels like you’re watching an entire film about a private joke. In Shaun of the Dead you have a sense of a close friendship and so the banter, jokes and arguments feel genuine. And it really is genuine, as some of the scenes between Simon and Nick were completely improvised so the laughter is real!

The story works very well as there doesn’t seem to be a particularly overpowering genre within the film (aside from the zombies). The romantic comedy element plays out well, combining comedy horror for a unique twist. The supporting characters create a balance, creating comedy and adding drama where necessary to keep the plot moving along (as we all know in a horror film, we need more cast to have them picked off one by one!). The sound in the film has clearly been carefully planned as there are direct music clips from films like Dawn of the Dead, while there are more subtle references with songs like “Ghost Town” and “Zombi Nation” which add to the atmosphere and also play along with the story. Commonly in horror films sound effects are exaggerated to add to the shock factor, and so of course we have many exaggerated hitting and squelching sounds to make the zombies more disgusting, but also comical.

There are few special effects in the film except for the zombie make-up which is not overdone, and the occasional gore scene. The make-up has been done well enough to create the right amount of comedy and horror as the zombies look authentic enough to be disgusting and scary, but not over-powering that they remove all comedy in the film.

Overall this film is a very successful homage to the zombie genre, but also a unique view on romantic comedy as well!

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