“Shaun of the Dead” is a movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome – which is good, because it is doubtful that the film’s premise could sustain one more second over its 99-minute running time.
The movie stars Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote the screenplay, as Shaun, an underachieving Brit who may just be the most oblivious person ever to have lived. He gets out of bed with a hangover, gets dressed, catches the morning bus and ignores all the other people there, who seem to be as tired as he is. Well, those people aren’t really all that tired. They’re just zombies.
The film continues this way, as Shaun remains oblivious to the fact that London is rife with zombies. The news is full of stories about the plague, but Shaun only turns the TV on to watch soccer. When he and his friend Ed (Nick Frost) encounter one of the living dead in the backyard, they assume she is a drunk.
The movie leaves the zombies in the background, at least for the first half of the story. The first act focuses mostly on Shaun and his relationship with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), who continually threatens to dump him for being a slacker, and with his drinking buddy Ed.
Shaun is content with getting plastered every night at their local pub, the Winchester, and limping home in a drunken stupor. And then the zombies show up and ruin things.
It’s pretty far into the film before Shaun and Ed realize there is something very wrong going on in London. Once they realize that the zombie swarms have overrun the city, they naturally grab a pair of cricket bats and make their way to the Winchester, but not before stopping at Shaun’s parents’ home.
Shaun’s parents are played wonderfully by Penelope Wilton and the long-faced Bill Nighy. Things look bad for Shaun’s dad when he is bitten by one of the Undead. As the news points out, once bitten, the victim is turned into a zombie by the creatures’ mutagenic saliva. Oh, but Dad has already thought of that; “Don’t worry, I ran it under the tap,” he assures everyone.
Pretty soon, the lead characters are all barricaded in the Winchester, Liz having been picked up along the way, fighting back the hoards of zombies. It is in this third act that the movie unravels. It basically evolves into a standard horror film with the characters lobbing off zombie heads with a swing of their cricket bats.
The last part of the movie is a waste of potential, but the film cannot be completely discounted. It’s fun and witty. The movie is especially clever in the way that it equates Shaun’s drunkenness with being a zombie. Really, being a souse is not all that different from being one of the Undead.
This is a clever spoof of zombie movies that pokes fun at the conventions of the genre. Writers Pegg and Edgar Wright, who also directed the film, have seen “Dawn of the Dead,” “Night of the Living Dead” and “28 Days Later” and know that zombies are not interesting monsters, because they really just behave like drunken cannibals. “Shaun of the Dead” turns that limitation of the zombie genre into its greatest comedic strength.