Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Directed by Edgar Wright
Cinema 1544 was born in a Caffe Italia booth over lunch in August or September of 2006. After a prolonged discussion on movies (somehow it wasn’t sports!) co-founder Troy Crowder and I came up with a brilliant plan: We have access to a conference room. The conference room has a projector and a passable sound system. We are surrounded by a community of intelligent folks who have seen and love movies that we may never even have heard of. Let’s do movie night! It took nothing more than a few emails and a quick check with the building muckety-mucks and Cinema 1544 was up and running!
It was decided that Troy would kick things off, and charter member Phong suggested that perhaps a short film before the movie would be in order. Little did we know that Phong would become the King of Shorts at Cinema 1544, but the whole series kicked off with a little beauty called Mr. Resistor.
There’s not a lot to it, really. It’s a stop-motion film about a little man made from spare electrical components. If there was a moral to the story, I missed it, but that’s no matter. It’s fun, quirky, and it was a perfect kickoff to the series.
Troy followed with…a zombie movie.
The title, Shaun of the Dead, is an obvious play on Dawn of the Dead, the George A. Romero zombie classic from the late ’70s, so you know that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. Then again, who wants to watch a zombie movie that takes itself seriously? I mean, come on.
The movie follows a pretty standard formula. We’re introduced to a couple of losers (Shaun and Ed, below). Ed’s got problems because he doesn’t have a job, and nobody likes him, and he’s fat. Shaun (the star of the film, if you couldn’t guess by the title) has his own problems. He’s got a lousy job, and his hot girlfriend Liz is in the middle of dumping him because he’s a boring loser whose idea of a hot date is to go down to his favorite pub (The Winchester) for the seventh time that week. Pub? Did I mention they’re English?
Their little problems turn out to be not so important (though throughout the film they would continually beg to differ) because this very morning is the one on which a serious case of undeadness decided to spread itself across the isle of Great Britain, thus fulfilling the first formula of every good (and bad) zombie movie — zombies. Of course, it takes everybody a while to figure out what’s going on, and Shaun and Ed continue on blissfully until their roommate goes a bit off and they have to kill him. And there’s a weird girl in the garden. They get the picture eventually: zombies, don’t get bitten, blunt force trauma, to the head. Done. Cricket bats seem to work nicely, because this is England.
Now they just have to set about the process of gathering up everybody they care about and making a last stand. Of course, nobody likes Ed, so it’s pretty much just Liz and Shaun’s mother and stepfather. Things go fairly smoothly because, unlike in standard zombie fare like 28 Days Later, the undead here are painstakingly slow and not terribly goal-oriented. Sure, they’ll bite you if you let them, but they’re just as inclined to stand there stupidly and take one on the head like a real sport. Frankly, I find this refreshing, because the fast, nimble zombies from standard horror fare are not terribly believable. I mean, just think of the metabolic requirements! On top of that, they seem to have a preternatural ability to detect, seek out, and destroy non-undead everywhere. These zombies, sure, they go for the living, but I’m pretty sure they chomp on each other a bit as well. If the thing you bite on chomps back, maybe you leave it alone and try to find an easier meal.
Anyhow, I said things go fairly smoothly because it turns out that Shaun’s stepfather has been bitten. This is OK, because Shaun never really liked him anyway, and it gives him an opportunity to not only kill him, but also to fabricate stories about how he was sexually molested by him as a child. (Look, I never said Shaun was a role model!)
Eventually, with Mom and Liz in tow (as well as a few other friends) Shaun decides to take them to the safest place he knows — which just happens to be The Winchester. Liz is a bit peeved about this. But the plan works out all right until it turns out that Shaun’s mother was bitten too, though she tried to hide it, and a mob of these cutiepies comes storming the castle:
I like the twins. Nice touch. So in the end Shaun gets to shoot his mum, the incidental friends die, they basically burn down the bar, and Shaun and Liz are rescued from what appears to be a hopeless situation by the Army. Ed? Well, Ed kind of makes it. “Kind of” in the sense that he gets bitten, but after everything dies down the world learns to domesticate the zombies, and Shaun is able to keep Ed chained up in the shed to be used as a video game partner. Of course, the movie completely glosses over what must have a horrifying realization by Shaun. You can domesticate zombies? I shot my mother. In the head. Well, he probably got a nice insurance payout out of it, so maybe he didn’t mind too much.
So, it was a fun movie, if not worthy of Best Picture accolades. I give it 8 cricket bats out of 10