Shaun of the Dead (2004): Figuring Out Life During the Zombie Apocalypse
To say Edgar Wright is a talented director would be underselling his ability. From Baby Driver to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, he has shown a consistent talent for making stylish and unique films with solid storytelling. His style is best shown through the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, a trio of films (Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and Shaun of The Dead) related by actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as well as a recurring creative team of Wright, Pegg and producer Nira Park and finally, references to Cornetto ice cream cones. The first of these films is the zombie classic: Shaun of the Dead.
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an aimless slacker whose life is directionless. He has a dead-end job as a TV salesman, doesn’t get along with his stepfather (Bill Nighy), is in a rut with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) and spends his time at a pub with his dumber friend Ed (Nick Frost) who has even less prospects than Shaun. After one particularly bad day that leads to Shaun getting dumped, he drunkenly decides to get his life together. The next morning, the city is infested with zombies. Shaun, along with Ed, must now protect the people in his life from the zombies while dealing with his own personal problems.
One of the things Edgar Wright is known for is his fast-paced editing. While not as fast paced as Hot Fuzz or Baby Driver, Shaun of The Dead is still tightly edited. Aiding this is how well shot the film is. Every shot is deliberate and calculated to bring the most out of each scene, whether it be a joke or a plot element. They also reuse many shots from earlier in the film, but use them in ways that make them stand out on their own. All of this leads nicely to the writing.
Like the editing, the writing is tight and well refined. This is shown mostly through the dialogue and structure. The film is one of the best examples of foreshadowing in any film, only rivaled by the other Cornetto Trilogy films. Virtually every line, shot, character and plot beat comes back at some point in the film in some capacity. This extends to running gags, dialogue foreshadowing what will happen later while meaning something completely different in the moment, details coming back to cause problems for the characters later (like the jukebox randomly playing), tiny character details (Liz’s friend Dianne being an actress), and even the zombies themselves (most if not all of the zombies appear earlier in the film). All of this aids the comedy of the film, which is as sharp as the editing.
The characters themselves are unique and well performed, with the best performances coming from Pegg and Frost. Both fully embody their characters and have a strong chemistry together that makes them fun to watch. It helps that Shaun and Ed are likable buffoons, with Shaun being good hearted while Ed is the lovable idiot who you can’t hate despite his obvious flaws. It is easy to see why they are friends and how they are screw ups who need to grow up.
Zombie movies often have social commentary, something that is present from the earliest zombie film and Shaun of the Dead is no exception. From the similarities the zombies have to the humans in many parts of the film to how long it takes Shaun to recognize what is going on to even the ending itself, this film continues the tradition of zombie films critiquing society. The film has been analyzed to levels that would make more sense for a Stanley Kubrick film than a zombie rom-com. Film scholars have quite a bit to say about the film from its relation to the post-9/11 zombie boom to a Marxist analysis of the film, which only shows how much the film has to offer to audiences.
Shaun of The Dead is not just an iconic Edgar Wright film, but also has made a major impact in pop culture. Aside from its general success as a cult classic, it has gotten referenced from hell to back and has been shown numerous times on TV, and it isn’t hard to see why. The film is funny all throughout its runtime, possesses clever social commentary all while sticking to its horror genre roots. It is a film that should most definitely be seen at least once if not twice.