SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a crisp and lethally funny blend of B-movie monsters and those “kitchen sink” dramas from Britain’s theatrical renaissance of the late 50s and early 60s. Our angry young man is the Shaun (Simon Pegg) of the title, a feckless drone with a dead-end job that is a daily, even hourly humiliation, a girlfriend that yearns for something more, a mother he adores, a step-father that chases him around the backyard with big sticks, an obnoxious roommate that he rather likes, and a responsible roommate that he rather despises, not to mention fears. Then again, fear is the key component of Shaun’s life, that and his acute and constant embarrassment over things like memory lapses and a fondness for fart jokes. As we meet him, his world is crashing around him with a resounding thud. Just as he thinks, and tubby slacker roommate Ed (Nick Frost) portentously says, things can’t get any worse, of course they do, in the form of re-animated corpses that want to make a meal of the living, or at least turn them into the living dead, forcing Shaun to cast himself as a hero much to the bemusement of everyone around him.
The script is rife with mordant wit and finely observed lunacy as our dim-witted but well-meaning hero attempts to save the day armed with little more than a cricket bat, a vague plan, and the sort of gritty determination that would give Genghis Khan pause. Okay, not pause exactly, but a moment’s amusement before he squashed him into an amorphous pool of goo. The writing is as tight and careful as it is wildly funny, leaving nothing to chance. One-liners mix easily with set pieces that deliver achingly funny payoffs. The cast, while all laudable, particularly Penelope Wilton as Shaun’s chirpy mother and Bill Nighy as his cadaverous step-father, pale in comparison to Pegg himself, who brings to the role the body language of an agitated gerbil that masks the smarts of, well, an agitated gerbil. Edgar Wright, who co-wrote the script with Pegg, delivers dazzling direction. He mixes quick cuts, masterful tracking shots, and camera angles that heighten both Shaun?s heroic aspirations and his essential gerbilness as he leads his family, friends, and sort-of friends across the suddenly terrifying terrain of North London, whether they want to go or not.
Like all good zombie movies, there is a metaphor to be had. And like all good metaphors, it’s so perfect that the only question is why it hasn’t been raised before. In that slow shuffle, dull stare, and inchoate anger seeking an outlet that Shaun, not to mention the other toilers in la vie quotidienne, exhibited before the adventure begins, we see something more zombie-like than living, as far as living a life of meaning, much less following one’s bliss. And so it is that SHAUN OF THE DEAD constitutes what is as close to a perfect film as it’s possible to have. It’s fun, it’s clever, and somewhere amid all the silliness and pastiche of gore, there’s an arch and salient bit of social commentary. But don’t worry, unlike a zombie’s bite or a girlfriend’s rejection, it’s completely painless.