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Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Director: Edgar Wright

review by Tony Lee

Sitting quietly in his local pub, Shaun (Simon Pegg) is told by his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) that she's dumping him, partly because his fat friend Ed (Nick Frost) is always hanging around to spoil their supposed 'dates'. Shaun and Ed don't take this news very well, and their commiserative binge to ward off suburban losers' blues only results in annoying housemate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) in the early hours. Next morning, after Shaun's trek to the corner shop for a newspaper, he eventually discovers that the nearby streets are filling up with flesh-hungry zombies. That's when he decides it's time for some - rather flustered - heroics. And so, with Ed following dutifully, Shaun sets off to save his mum Barbara (veteran Penelope Wilton) from her 'infected' second husband Philip (Bill Nighy, on top form), and - hopefully - win back Liz's respect and affection by rescuing her from the rapidly growing hordes of shambling undead...

To be honest, I didn't want to like this. I hate British TV sitcoms (especially as the springboard, or source material, for a film scenario), and generally despise most contemporary British cinema, especially tiresome romantic comedy stuff. However, Shaun Of The Dead, the feature debut from the creators of TV sitcom Spaced, is a cross-genre spoof that really works. As a horror thriller, it's not in the same class as Dog Soldiers, but it skilfully fuses romantic farce with zombie shocker melodrama to craft what's being touted as the first ever 'rom-zom-com' movie.

With its perfunctory storyline, predictable episodes of confrontation, escape, pursuit, siege, and inevitably gruesome violence, the narrative simplicity of Shaun belies its sustained entertainment value. With likeable characters, always-watchable performances, plenty of amusingly quick-fire dialogue, and several inspired sight gags, this is one of the best homegrown genre parodies I've seen in many years. The scene where Shaun, Liz, and friends 'audition' their zombie impressions in preparation for sneaking through across a road that's crowded with menace is priceless. And the admirable slob double-act of Pegg and Frost (the former co-stars of Spaced) makes a firm basis for some increasingly frantic physical and verbal comedy situations, while fortunately avoiding many of the usual pitfalls and dreary clichés of typical sitcoms.

Both Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead are in-jokily alluded to, as is Peter Jackson's Braindead (1992), and there are clever fast-editing patterns reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky's best work. Yet, despite its wholly derivative nature, this is a funny and genuinely witty film, delivering comic imagination, inventive slapstick and a generous dose of agreeable pathos on a low budget. It's hardly a postmodern masterpiece, or even a gem of UK black comedy, but Shaun Of The Dead is nonetheless a pleasant surprise, and certainly worth seeing if you thought (as I did) that its own trailer made it seem like terribly boring rubbish.
Shaun of the Dead

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