The typical American zombie would find slim-pickings, brains-wise, behind the scenes of the typical American zombie movie. With the possible exception of the “underdog practices and practices and practices and eventually goes on to win the big championship” sports movie, no other category of film seems to have to have so little variation between individual entries. The undead are always slow, the heroines are always buxom, the protagonists always get picked off one by one. Not that I’m complaining — I like buxom heroines — but after seeing 28 days Later, the British “reinvention of the genre,” my interest in the typical American zombie movie pretty much evaporated. I mean, how sad is it when you can reinvent a whole genre just by realizing that zombies that run are scarier than zombies that mosey?
I therefore passed on the Dawn Of The Dead remake, and didn’t even consider going to see Resident Evil: Apocalypse. But when I heard that another Brit had “reinvented the genre” yet again, my interest was piqued. So I once again headed to the theater to see what new bottle they could pour this old wine into, and once again I loved the results.
Director and screenwriter Edgar Wright describes Shaun of The Dead as a “Zom Rom Com” — that’s “zombie romantic comedy” to the uninitiated. The premise is so commonplace that it hardly bears repeating: a virus is sweeping through the country, killing citizens and animating their mindless corpses. The undead stagger about the city in search of victims to eat or infect, and, within days, the bulk of the population has been converted, with small bands of survivors desperately trying to fend off the zombie hordes.
How can you cram a “romantic comedy” into such a bleak storyline, you might ask. As it turns out, it’s not as difficult as you might imagine — Wright certainly makes it look easy, at any rate. In essence, he just took the standard “guy strives to get his girl back” romance, plunked it into the middle of the standard “living dead are taking over the world” universe, and let the comedy take care of itself.
In fact, what’s impressive about Shaun is how little it deviates from the conventional romantic comedy or conventional zombie movie — if you were to divorce the plotlines you’d be left with two very mediocre films. What makes the movie shine is the skill with which Wright blends the disparate elements. He also has a knack for taking very routine “horror movie” scenes and changing their focus just enough to point out their absurdities, eliciting belly-laughs from moments that otherwise have otherwise produced winces (or yawns). And it doesn’t hurt that his sense of comedic timing is grand.
Which isn’t to say that Shaun isn’t scary — there are actually quite a few startling moments in there. In fact, there’s a enough of each of the components — zombies, romance, comedy — to satiate the viewer’s desire for each without letting any single motif overwhelm the rest. Shaun Of The Dead ain’t the best film I’ve seen all year, but it’s cquite possibly the most enjoyable.