Twitter Plot Summary: The world’s first zom-rom-com (not Warm Bodies you silly people) sees Shaun try to salvage his relationship during the zombie apocalypse.
The first cinematic pairing of director Edgar Wright and our titular hero Shaun, played by Simon Pegg, spun out from their work on the still excellent sitcom Spaced (one episode featured a dream sequence involving Pegg’s character Tim dreaming about Resident Evil and killing zombies) and their shared enjoyment of the zombie genre. The result is a film that pays homage to decades of zombie cinema but also manages to be one of the best examples the genre has to offer. This is in no small thanks to a script that balances jokes with scares alongside Wright’s kinetic style of direction.
Shaun is a thirty something working in an electronics shop and unaware that his life isn’t going anywhere. This is apparent to his frustrated girlfriend Liz (Ashfield) however Shaun is content to just go with the flow and not try to make anything more of himself. At the centre of all this is the friendship between Shaun and Ed, made all the more real because of the genuine friendship offscreen between Pegg and Frost. Ed is a layabout with no aspirations and is arguably holding Shaun back. Things come to a head, Shaun and Liz split up, and just as Shaun decides to sort his life out, the zombie apocalypse takes place. What follows is their attempts to survive and “wait for this whole thing to blow over”. So where do they, Liz’s friends David and Dianne (Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis), Shaun’s Mum (Penelope Wilton) and Shaun’s stepdad Phillip (a marvelous Bill Nighy) decide to go? The pub where Shaun spends his time and contributed to his breakup: The Winchester. They have a Breville out back, just in case you want a toasted sandwich.
Shaun of the Dead works not just because it’s full of loving homages to other films about the living dead, but because it has a fun story structure that features many callbacks to earlier moments and is subsequently great for multiple viewings. Behind the camera, Edgar Wright brings his now familiar bag of tricks to proceedings, utilising quick cuts, repeated camera moves and an understanding of when less is more.
The jokes hit home on a regular basis, and this is tempered by some incredibly gory, pure horror moments. Thankfully there is just the right balance of comedy with drama. This isn’t a rose-tinted comedy film where everybody comes out the other end in one piece. The cast are more than capable of supporting such moments. Whilst they are all, primarily, from a comedy background, there is still real gravitas to the more serious elements as they occur – and there are a surprising number of them.
Looking back now that the “Cornetto Trilogy” has been completed, it’s evident that the trio of Wright, Pegg and Frost are a team that have a very specific creative edge that, between them, can be adapted to almost any genre. Shaun may lack the same levels of narrative depth as their later efforts have revealed, but it was the starting point for what was to follow and is a supremely confident feature film debut for this particular creative team. And, more importantly, it works perfectly well as a zombie film in its own right. Anything that gets George Romero’s seal of approval is clearly deserving of praise, and Shaun is a more than deserving recipient.