Directed by Edgar Wright (2004)
by Billy Russell
Upon its initial release, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead was described as a zombie parody that was a little bit more than just a zombie parody. It was also a romantic comedy, dubbed a Rom-Zom-Com (romantic zombie comedy), but really, it’s much more than that — it’s much more than some flashy descriptor or ultra-specific genre moniker. Shaun of the Dead is, at its core, a movie about friendship. It’s about friendship in all its forms.
Much emphasis is placed on the relationship between titular Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his ex-girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), providing the plot with its romantic conflict, but an equal amount of tension grows between Shaun and his old college roommate turned adult-life roommate, Ed (Nick Frost). A friendship, like a romantic relationship, requires that both parties grow and mature. If someone is stuck in the same maturity level that they were ten years ago, the foundation on which that friendship is built is going to crumble. If Shaun is at odds with Liz, who wants something more out of life than to drink pints and eat pig snacks, then Shaun is just as much at odds with Ed, who is slowly whittling away at his sanity each time he has to stand in stunned silence when someone yells, “Stop defending him!” or calls Ed out on the meandering existence he very much thrives on.
The way I see it, Shaun of the Dead is divided into two distinct halves: there’s everything that happens pre-zombie invasion, and then there’s everything that happens post-zombie invasion. The two halves are mirrored by each other when something that had occurred in the first half with a slightly darker (but often equally hilarious) twist later on. There’s the tracking Steadicam shot from Shaun’s flat to the corner store; “You’ve got red on you,” the “I’m not laughin’” fart joke; and “I’m glad somebody made it.”
In the first half of the movie, Shaun is most closely-aligned in personality to his old buddy Ed, just sort of happy to be there and never really striving for anything else. In the second half of the movie, Shaun is most closely-aligned in personality to Liz, actively trying to improve on their given situation and do something for the betterment of him and his group of survivors, in order to make it through the night. By the very end of the movie, after seeing so much excitement – enough excitement for many lifetimes – everyone’s given in to their own inner Ed.
Prior to making Shaun of the Dead, director Edgar Wright along with Shaun co-stars Pegg and Frost, had made a TV show called Spaced. Simon Pegg’s character in Spaced describes friendship as the family of the 21st century, and that philosophy continues on throughout this film (and the other two in the Cornetto trilogy, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End). Though Shaun has a mother that he cares for very much, the family that he’s made for himself is populated with friends of all types, and in the event that a zombie apocalypse should actually occur in reality, Shaun of the Dead is probably closest in nailing how it would go down: the fight for survival would be alongside friends while also battling a hangover, and in between the screams, we’d probably all have a chance to grab a few beers together, because why the hell not? At the end of it all, if you were meant to be friends, friends you shall remain. And given the slowness of the zombie attackers, the whole thing would probably be resolved within 24 hours, as is the case in George A. Romero’s first zombie outing Night of the Living Dead, as opposed to his complete end-of-the-world scenario in his later flesh-eater flicks.
Shaun of the Dead is much more than some comedy that happens to be populated with limping, groaning, reanimated corpses that pop up to get shot. It certainly is that, and delights in how many homages to greats of the genre it can squeeze in, but genuine emotion comes from Shaun and Ed butting heads, seeing the hurt on Ed’s face when Shaun has to hiss at him, “All you ever do is fuck things up!” and there’s something genuinely sweet about the way Shaun says, “Thanks, babe,” when Ed brings him a pint of beer.
And perhaps it’s fitting that the very last scene of the movie isn’t of Shaun and Liz, it’s of Shaun and Ed, Ed now a member of the undead, playing a video game for old time’s sake while Queen’s You’re My Best Friend plays and it fades to the ending credits.
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