Starring: Simon Pegg Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran. Rated R.
Since the Scream
saga ushered in the
resurgence of the horror genre as a heavyweight box-office draw, fans of
gratuitous gore have been treated to an endless stream of tongue-in-cheek
slasher fare (I Know What You Did Last Summer), regrettable remakes (Psycho),
retro camp (Freddy Vs. Jason and the
upcoming Seed of Chucky) and mind-numbing
drivel (Cabin Fever). In 1996, that
devilish Leprechaun (“I
need me gold!”) launched himself into space; five years later, Jason followed.
This was, needless to say, an instance of creative bankruptcy in search of a
buck, not of great minds thinking alike.
Judging from the
recent success of 28 Days Later and
Dawn of the Dead, it seems that flesh-eating
zombies have once again become the
flavor of the moment. Shaun of the Dead,
a British romantic comedy with enough splatter to make Wes
Craven blush, might be the best of the bunch.
That's not to
say it boasts the most remarkable special effects or the jagged, rapid-fire
camera work of 28 Days Later. There
are some darkly amusing shots in Shaun of the Dead -- witness awestruck London pub buddies
Shaun (Simon Pegg) and best friend Ed (Nick Frost), seen through the gaping
gash in a zombie's stomach -- but there is nothing groundbreaking here. There is, however, something
about the film’s style, which owes more to the watered-down ketchup approach of
old-school horrormeisters like George Romero, Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson --
think 1992’s Dead-Alive, not
of the Rings -- than to any of the
slick, MTV-inspired visual gimmickry to have emerged during the past decade.
But then, that's
precisely the point. Unlike, say, Final Destination 2, which was a highlight reel of
well-choreographed slaughters in search of a plot, Shaun of the
Dead is driven by characters, human emotions
other than fear, and wickedly sharp dialogue. More shocking than the amount of
blood spilled is the fact that the film, involving Shaun's desperate efforts to
rescue his girlfriend Liz from legions of flesh-eating corpses, is both
genuinely romantic and funny. That's largely because Shaun, the exasperated Liz
(Kate Ashfield) and the cheerfully obnoxious Ed are given real depth. Even the
supporting players, particularly Shaun's cold stepfather, are established as
complex, sympathetic beings rather than mere corpses-to-be.
of laughs here, often provided by Ed's brash obliviousness -- this is a guy,
after all, who chatters away loudly on his cell phone while his friends are
surrounded by a throng of bloodthirsty ghouls. But Shaun of the
Dead, written by Pegg, Frost and director
Edgar Wright, doesn't rely on in-jokes aimed to tickle the horror crowd, just
it refuses to fall back on cheap, CGI-driven terror tactics. Instead it takes
the high road, seamlessly integrating offbeat comedy with white-knuckled
scariness, all to surprisingly rousing effect.