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Wayback Wednesday: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

A gut-busting good time watching guts get busted.

Given the general stress the world is feeling right now, I told myself that I wouldn’t give in and review any movies that would only worsen people’s unease. Like, you will NOT catch me out here reviewing Contagion (2011) anytime soon. No ma’am. But because it’s important to find humour even in the most uncertain of times, I decided to dip into the genre and choose a horror-comedy that’s honestly the best of both worlds. Shaun of the Dead (2004) is equal parts horrifying, and hilarious. Come on. Don’t we all need to laugh at the concept of a zombie uprising right now? Am I right?

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 11.00.36 AM
Credit: / Universal Pictures / Mars Distribution / Rogue Pictures

Directed by Edgar Wright and co-written by Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead follows Shaun, a complacent electronic salesman barely getting by in life. When he wakes up one day and finds that London has been overrun by zombies, it’s up to Shaun to keep his friends and family safe while also trying to win back his ex-girlfriend, and get his life together.

Though it’s the first in Wright’s unofficial Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (2004 – 2013), Shaun of the Dead was the only entry I had never seen before. I remember watching The World’s End (2013), once and thinking it was fine, and I can’t tell you how many times I watched Hot Fuzz (2007) growing up. Sidenote, Hot Fuzz is great. In fact, a lot of what makes Hot Fuzz great is prevalent in Shaun of the Dead. In both writing and direction, Wright has such a clear, signature approach to filmmaking. At this point in his career, his movies are practically a genre all their own. They’re always brimming with action and fast-paced in both plot and dialogue. Shaun of the Dead is no exception. Part hilarious observational comedy and part genuinely terrifying horror, Shaun of the Dead is a well-rounded movie with a little something for everyone.

On the surface, Shaun of the Dead is a straightforward horror-comedy. And while the movie totally delivers on gorey action, mile-a-minute jokes, and tense scenes full of peril and dread, it’s also like, a real movie. Wright and Pegg sprinkle in moments of engaging drama and relatable emotion, making for a movie that while being a fun adventure, is at its core, a compelling character-driven story. Of course, the inspired casting of Pegg and Nick Frost as bosom buddies is a big part of what makes Shaun of the Dead so compelling.

Pegg stars as Shaun and in my opinion, nails the role. Sure, it’s not a difficult role to play, but Pegg does such a good job of embodying every side there is to Shaun that it makes for a great performance. As a protagonist, Shaun is vulnerable, easy to identify with, and just doing his best to navigate a city-wide zombie attack. Pegg effortlessly conveys all of this while still pulling off an a convincing turn as an unlikely hero thrown into battle. Oh, and duh, making us laugh along the way as well. His brilliant chemistry with Frost, who plays Shaun’s best friend, Ed, is one of the best parts of this, and the other Cornetto movies. The pair mesh perfectly together, and lighten up this, at times, chilling movie.

Shaun of the Dead is a movie that you can’t simply throw on as background noise. The masterfulness of Wright’s direction is that he favours these tracking shots that always feature something outrageous going on in the background of almost every scene. And it’s always a riot! I could watch an entire movie that’s just characters being completely oblivious to the horrific zombie uprising happening in the background. And that’s what the first 25 minutes of this movie are! The obliviousness to the terror going on in the background is obviously hilarious, but you know what else? It’s also kind of frightening. There’s a level of subtle scariness that makes Shaun of the Dead a legitimate heavy hitter in the horror department. I bet if he really wanted to, Wright could easily craft a straight-up horror movie and have it be a smash hit. Hey, Jordan Peele worked in comedy before blowing everyone away with his prowess as a maker of modern psychological thrillers. Get on it, Wright! By the way, check out my review for Us (2019) here.

I enjoyed Shaun of the Dead. I think my personal preference when it comes to Edgar Wright movies continues to be Hot Fuzz, but Shaun of the Dead is still a fun, wild, gore-tastic ride. Any movie that can blur the lines between genres and keep you entertained throughout, is a winner in my book. Whether it’s with terror or with laughter, Shaun of the Dead is sure to keep you screaming.

Are you a fan of Shaun of the Dead?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!




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