Movie Review of Shaun of the Dead (2004)

by JoHarrington

What if a Romero-style zombie apocalypse occurred in Britain? Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright depict it with utter genius in this dark comedy.

Ever since I had my run of watching George Romero's 'Living Dead' series, people have been telling me to watch 'Shaun of the Dead'.

I resisted at first because I thought it was another Romero one, and I hadn't enjoyed 'Day of the Dead'.

Then still disdained it, because I believed it was an American parody movie of the cult classics. My sense of humor oscillates between quirky and dark. American comedies are sometimes too slapstick for me.

I eventually watched it because it was on the television. Add my voice to the chorus recommending this with my face lit up over a grin. It was brilliant!

Shaun of the Dead (Steelbook Collection)

Take your pick! Watch 'Shaun of the Dead' on Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital Copy or UltraViolet. You get them all with this special edition!

Shaun of the Dead: A Very British Zombie Movie

When I wasn't quietly giggling, I was roaring with laughter. It's a British zombie film, packed with dark humor, and nods aplenty towards Romero and his ilk.

Image: Ed and Shaun in Shaun of the DeadShaun of the Dead is destined to become a cult classic.  Some might say that there's no 'destined' about it.  It already is.

It's a very rare phenomenon - a movie which is almost universally loved by everyone who watches it.  I wanted to see it again as soon as the closing credits began. 

I imagine that this film rewards many repeated viewings. The cultural references alone are too numerous to catch them all on the first run, and there's always things going on in the background.

The obvious homage is to George Romero's 'Living Dead' trilogy.  We're all familiar with lumbering zombies out for brains in American malls and the like.  But what about a British pub and corner shop?

Simon Pegg plays Shaun, an assistant in a television shop.  He lives with his housemates - the gamer drug dealer Ed and the executive Pete.  Mostly he referees their constant bickering and tries not to take sides. 

Shaun's also busy trying to stop his girlfriend Lizzie dumping him, due to his inability to 'sort his life out'.  It doesn't help that he's not really prepared to go anywhere but the pub. Every night. With Ed. And Lizzie's friends David and Diane.  She's bored stupid.

Then the zombie apocalypse occurs. Proper Romero style zombie apocalypse, but on British streets. It's beautifully surreal, particularly as hardly anyone notices.  They're all too set in their routines to actually look up.

By the time the situation actually impacts upon Shaun and Ed's world, the rotting undead have nearly surrounded the pub!  Drastic action will have to be taken.  Obviously after they've had a cup of tea and dealt with the zombie in the garden.

Trailer for Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Traditional British Tunnel Vision

Romero's Living Dead series unashamedly took potshots at the mindlessness of American Capitalism.  It's no accident that its zombies ended up filling the avenues of shopping malls.

That wouldn't work quite so well in Britain. But we have our own traditions of unthinking sheeplike behavior, which Shaun of the Dead exploits with beautifully observed precision. 

The British aren't great at stepping out of our comfort zones. We make a virtue out of only doing what we've always done. Given half a chance, we'd only experience those things which have their precedents in our parents, and their parents, and every generation back to the Stone Age.

We panic at the thought of anything new and/or unfamiliar.  We tend to holiday only where the rest of the world provides alcoves of Little Britain. I have family members who'd rather starve than eat 'foreign muck'.

With such attitudes comes tunnel vision. It's the state of not even seeing what's outside your frame of reference, because that would involve contemplating it.  Or, Heaven forbid, interacting with it!

If you walk the same routes every day, sit in the same chair, engage with the same people and do the same things, then there's not much new to notice. It's a lack of awareness born of boredom masquerading as familiarity.

Hence it takes a while for Shaun and his friends to even spot the zombie apocalypse in progress. In one of the film's most brilliantly rendered scenes, Shaun manages to go all of the way to the local shop, buy a couple of things and return home without registered the undead hordes.

It perfectly mirrors the mindlessness of the British stuck in a rut. I could easily imagine that happening in real life. I just hope that I wouldn't be the one doing it!

Buy Shaun of the Dead on DVD

Watch Shaun of the Dead on Amazon Instant Video

Shaun, Oblivious to the Zombie Apocalypse

How True Britons Deal with Zombies

Besieged Americans in zombie movies always reach for their guns. The British have to be more inventive with our weaponry. Death by Dire Straits albums!

Image: Shaun of the DeadIf the worst qualities of the British are pastiched in the zombies, then all that's great about my compatriots was fondly celebrated in the response to them.

This wasn't the stilted cliche of Britons under siege. It was much more realistic than that.

Our protagonists reacted with understatement, humor, ridicule, disdain, stupidity, resourcefulness, low-level panic and a constant regard for what everyone else might be thinking.

(Though the streets are covered in brain-eating baddies, we do have to be careful not to step outside too many social conventions. Even more so in such unusual circumstances as the zombie apocalypse. 

Forget the horrors of decomposing figures trying to devour us, most Britons would be more scared by the fact there's no established precedent for how we're supposed to react! Fortunately there's always the Blitz Spirit to default to in an emergency. And tea. And beer.)

I spent most of the film laughing aloud, because I could identify with it all. At each new development, I kept thinking, 'Oh my God! Yes!  That's precisely what would happen!  Yes!  And that too!'

I'm not used to that. Usually if zombies are invading, they're doing it in America, where the culture is just different enough for me to not quite relate. Or else it's dark and gritty, a la 28 Days Later or In the Flesh. The very unexpectedness of US style zombie hordes in British buildings made it both surreal and hilarious.

I particularly enjoyed the array of improvised weaponry.  Britons can't reach for the gun cabinet, as we generally manage to do without them. Hence our heroes made do with whatever presented itself at the time.

Shaun charging out with a cricket bat in his hand was perfect on so many levels.  Ed's spade wasn't bad; the Molotov Cocktail was better. I'm not too sure about David and Diane opting for brollies.  Though I guess the effectiveness there would depend on the angle and the swing. Liz's hockey stick was a triumph! But the less said about Barbara's bouquet the better. What was she going to do?  Petal them to death?

They all change their choice of arms so often.  A really enjoyable watching of Shaun of the Dead might be spent blithely assessing each item in their arsenal. Just to work out which, if any, would be fit for purpose in a zombie stand-off situation.

Then look around your own room and tell me what you'd grab!

Shaun of the Dead Memorabilia

Shaun of the Dead DOES Pass the Bechdel Test

Diane, Yvonne and Mary were there, but Liz and Barbara actually spoke the words!

The Bechdel Test evaluates the role of female characters in a movie.

In order to pass, the film must have two or more named women or girls. They will have a conversation, which isn't about men.  It's amazing how many don't make the grade.

Shaun of the Dead manages it with a single scene, unless you count Barbara and Liz exchanging 'hellos' halfway through the film. I would ordinarily describe what happens, but the dialogue in question is quite pivotal and most definitely a spoiler.

I'll merely say that it's Barbara and Liz again.  They step aside from the group and discuss something important.  Though Shaun is mentioned, he's not their main focus. It's a clear pass for the Bechdel Test.

I would add that the test isn't always a useful gauge of female role models in movies.  You can have very strong lone women, who never speak with each other.  Equally, you can have two-dimensional, weak females, who chatter on incessantly.  The former would fail, while the latter would pass.

Shaun of the Dead is one of those rare movies which includes a plethora of named female characters.  They are vividly portrayed and fundamental to the narrative.  They don't necessarily rely upon the men to guide their lives and rescue them from the zombies.  In fact, Diane goes in after David.

And it passes the Bechdel Test too.  Bonus!

Three questions are asked of each movie. They are so simple that it would be harder to fail than pass. They examine the role of females in that film. Nearly half fail.
Updated: 08/22/2013, JoHarrington
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
JoHarrington on 09/16/2013

I've recently learned a serious appreciation for this team. I've watched the Three Flavours Cornetti Trilogy, Paul and an episode of 'Shamed'. They are all brilliant.

JoHarrington on 08/25/2013

That's precisely my preconceived notion of the movie. But no, it's not really that at all. Inspired, definitely, in all senses of the word.

JoHarrington on 08/25/2013

That's precisely my preconceived notion of the movie. But no, it's not really that at all. Inspired, definitely, in all senses of the word.

Ember on 08/24/2013

i loved this movie!! I'd kind of forgotten about it. I knew it was a sort of spoof of Dawn of the Dead, so I remember not expecting it to be very good, but it is. :D That took me back xD

JoHarrington on 08/24/2013

cmoneyspinner - I think it all comes down to the nature of your humor. If you find them funny, then it's never a waste. Me, I go for dark, dark, dark. I don't know what that says about me!

Typo excused. ;)

MaggiePowell - I hope that you enjoyed it! No, I haven't seen Dylan Dog. I'll look out for it now though. Thanks!

Dustytoes - Yes, I finally caved in, and I'm so glad about it. I could watch it again right now too. All of the scenes that you mentioned have me giggling in memory!

cmoneyspinner on 08/23/2013

NOT into horror movies. Excuse the typo.

dustytoes on 08/23/2013

Hey, you finally saw it! I could watch this movie over and over - and have! It is laugh out loud hilarious, and all the characters are perfect. My favorite parts are their obliviousness to the mayhem in the beginning, and then the record throwing at the zombies behind the house - only the bad records of course. Also them pretending to be zombies - too funny...and the suspense of how it will end. I wish it was on tv right now - I'd stop working and go watch! Your review page is perfect.

MaggiePowell on 08/23/2013

I've had this one on my "to-see" list for a while... looks like my movie plans for this evening are set!
BTW. Have you seen Dylan Dog? (Funny movie about a guy who maintains order in the world of zombies, vampires and werewolves...)

cmoneyspinner on 08/23/2013

My husband agrees with your opinion of American comedies being too slapstick. In fact, he thinks most of them are a total waste of time and money. Me? I'm just into horror movies - funny or serious. But I pinned this to my Movies and Music board. On a dark scary rainy night, I might be in the mood for this kind of flick. :)

JoHarrington on 08/23/2013

Elias - I genuinely want to watch it again now. I saw it on the telly, but I might have to get this DVD.

You might also like

Movie Review of Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George A. Romero's black and white original is THE classic zombie movie of al...

Movie Review of Day of the Dead (1985)

George A. Romero's series of zombie movies moved into its third incarnation. ...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...