Poor Shaun. Didn’t anyone ever tell him that a post-apocalyptic, zombie-creating virus that turns hordes of pasty Brits into even pastier brain-craving undead minions could be disastrous for a relationship? In Edgar Wright’s wickedly entertaining “Shaun of the Dead,” the audience is treated to a 90-minute holiday of watching Britons become fish n’ chips for their neighbors — and every minute of it is bloody brilliant.
The movie is centered around an everyman hero, Shaun, played by Simon Pegg in a hilarious and surprisingly poignant turn. Although Shaun may be the movie’s towheaded golden boy, he’s a quasi-pathetic 29-year-old with a low-level job at an electronics store and an affinity for spending hours in the local pub. His relationship with Liz (a very snoggable Kate Ashfield) is more dilapidated than WWII-era London. Shaun, too busy with generic video games and lager, makes the deadly mistake of forgetting their anniversary. Even more devastating, however, is the looming biological apocalypse that slowly creeps into suburban London.
Shaun’s apology to Liz falls flat: “I wanna live a little,” she whines. Apparently, Shaun and his corpulent mate Ned (played by Nick Frost, who is worth his weight in pounds) are dead weight for Liz, who, crazily enough, isn’t happy with the role of the trophy girlfriend. “You promised things would change,” she sighs. Just sit around and wait, Liz, you’re in store for a surprise.
Obviously there isn’t any shock when London Bridge is falling down (and by “bridge,” I mean mankind’s existence). Nor are groaning, fumbling hordes of zombies novel to the film scene. However, Wright makes the zombies fresh through his dry wit and social commentary in both pre- and post-“we want braaaains” London. In the beginning of the film, Wright shows the boring redundancies of the working day that give modern life a creepy quality of undead mindlessness. Wright’s irony appears in other facets of the film as well.
With a “Requiem for a Dream”-editing style, the movie piles together mounting dread by slamming mundane images of Shaun brushing his teeth and washing his hands. Ironically, before there is even news of the oncoming glassy-eyed minions, Shaun is alarmed by the subtleties of his day (the ghastly woman on the bus, the man eating a pigeon in the park). When the undead doomsday actually hits, Shaun is too engrossed in his daily routine to notice the wandering, brains-craving zombies.
The movie is hilarious. To combat the zombies, Ned and Shaun resort to old paddles and “Batman” soundtrack LPs to kill their former neighbors and friends. Perhaps the hilarity’s zenith is when Shaun and his ragtag team of survivors feign zombiness to confuse the raving packs of undead, and gain entrance into their favorite pub. However, the film also has its surprisingly poignant moments as well. When Shaun decides that he wants to rescue his mum, for example, he discovers a delightful twist of fate: his bizarre stepdad has an infected wound, and will thus shortly be undead. Yet somehow Shaun has a teary makeup session with the old bloke before his zombiness takes full effect. This, in addition to a future “Old Yeller” scenario with mum, seems slightly out-of-place in a movie that promises brain-craving mindless fun.
Despite this incongruity, “Shaun of the Dead” is a thoroughly enjoyable cinematic import and the perfect elixir for midterm stress. And who doesn’t want to watch spectacled Brits get their gastrointestinal cavities devoured like Berkeley meatloaf?