Slow Zombies, Take a Bow
Fast-moving zombies are up and coming. As featured in 28 Days Later and this year's Dawn of the Dead, the new models appear hip and very scary. But didn't the George Romero zombies make more sense? In his classics Night of the Living Dead and 1978's Dawn of the Dead, his reanimated creatures lumbered about and could only be really threatening in large numbers, when they were able to overwhelm victims. This seems logical -- after all, if you've come back from the dead, chances are your muscles aren't what they used to be.
Well, like it or not, a new zombie era seems to be upon us, but not before Shaun of the Dead has a chance to say thank you and good night. With a title like that, the British import is just what you'd think it would be -- a parody of zombie movies. What you might not know is that, as a satire, it's perfect. It not only functions as a parody of the genre, it works as a straight-up entry, and ends up being a loving homage. It has moments that are frightening, suspenseful, and gory -- but best of all, it's hilarious.
Writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/star Simon Pegg, who created the British series Spaced, have the right idea -- they obviously love the cult classic horror movies and have decided to make a comedy that doesn't make fun of them, but instead has fun with them. The story they tell is, for the most part, the standard story of a group of people who slowly (in this case, very slowly) find out that the people around them are turning into zombies and end up having to hole up somewhere to fend them off. Our heroes aren't your usual grim-faced bickering desperados, though; they're a decidedly neurotic bunch led by the pushover Shaun (Pegg), who finds the right time to grow a spine. And it's their not-too-smart regular-guy brand of resourcefulness that brings the humor to the proceedings.
The film is a confident combination of deadpan style, crack comedic timing, zombie movie references, and well-drawn characters who are given a funny story before the monsters even start to attack. As a result, the heroes are easy enough to like and pull for, even as the movie never loses sight of its dry humor. One scene near the end provides a good example of how the movie can pull disparate elements together without breaking a sweat -- after a string of zombie-fighting gags, we suddenly get an emotionally traumatic scene, followed by perhaps the movie's goriest moment. It mostly hinges on Shaun, and Pegg must be given a lot of credit for being able to hold together the emotional center in the kind of movie that normally lacks one and is all the better for having it. He starts out as a lovable loser with major problems involving his girlfriend and parents, and somehow the undead crisis gives him his comical chance at redemption.
Shaun of the Dead is even happy to reflect the commentary from Romero's films -- the idea that people in civilized society are already close to being zombies, lumbering about their daily routines and going nowhere in life. It's loyal to its roots, even as it puts its own spin on the conventions. The slow zombies are played for the relatively lightweight menace that they are -- mostly easy to avoid and outwit, but still scary in large numbers. It reminds us of the, um, charms of the pokey flesh-eaters. In that sense, Shaun of the Dead ought to be the appropriate capper to the Romero zombie period, taking them out with goodhearted laughs and a bang.
(Released by Rogue Pictures and rated "R" for zombie violence/gore and language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.