Shaun of the Dead (2004)
"In a time of crisis a hero must rise...from his sofa."
The first movie to introduce many of us to the knockout trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost in a great take on the zombie genre with a bit of british flair. Shaun of the Dead creates a goofy spin on the now humdrum zombie film, but without actually changing from those loveable Romero-esque zombies of olden days, instead using it's main cast to bring about the laughs - something it succeeds at. Considering there are zombies in it, and the requisite violence that such a creature would bring to bat, it's not one for everybody but to those who love themselves some of the shuffling flesh-hungry beasts, it's almost certain you have already seen it.
Shaun (Pegg) is just an average dude, with average problems and an average life. We are introduced a bit to him right at a turning point, in which things start to go downhill for him - he messes up with his girlfriend, who finally gets sick of his lackluster motivation, and ends up getting dumped. At this point, he does what any broken hearted middle-aged man probably would: get drunk. From the moment he awakens the next day, however, things are a bit off. Turns out, he's smack dab in the middle of a zombie outbreak. Can he step up to the plate and save his mum, flatmate (Frost), and girl - winning her back in the process?
It's a straightforward plot, playing out much like a romance flick with zombie undertones until the zombie-outbreak proper happens, which gives us enough time to get attuned to Shaun. Afterwards, we get a particular breed of fun that ends up carrying on to the next film in the "series" (Hot Fuzz ) in many ways, but at the same time always remaining relevant to the film: taking short cuts, for example. Although some might think the plot shallow, considering how straightforward it is, it does provide a feasting of other goodies as well, including a bunch of character development on the part of our main character Shaun.
You see, as much as we could argue and debate some of the possible deeper moments - things about humanity, life and death, and all of that good stuff - it also gives us a nice batch of foreshadowing that most (although oddly some didn't) catch on to by the end of the movie. The more tricky of viewers will actually know the entire movie long before the finish line, but at the same time should still enjoy all the treats as it goes. Part of this enjoyment is undoubtedly the humor, even with so much of the film being distinctly british in nature (even down to the language, of which I mean the harsher variety). It has it's serious moments in which you can feel for the characters, yes, but it's just as likely to throw a joke about farts in as well (which is rather effective against me).
Although the only real character we see a whole lot of development in is Shaun, each character does feel rather much like individuals. Even the side characters who get barely any screen time (like many of the pub regulars) have a very distinct look to them, making them recognizable even when zombified. It's a nice tidbit, as in most zombie films you don't end up seeing a whole lot of costume variety, with mostly all the characters simply looking like everyday normal people. They each have a distinct personality (Shaun's spacey yet very nice mother, Ed's relative lack of usefulness) that helps distinguish them from each other, which in turn has you rooting for some to survive and others to get their screen time bitten short.
The setting is also a nice treat, as even though they are everyday places the simple fact that they all have a distinct realistic charm to them while also not seeming as incredibly packed (the Winchester pub atmosphere, the backyards and their fences all feel very suburban, which is a nice step away from the bustling cities of many modern flicks). It's quaint, really, and helps to add more impact to the rather large zombie population by the end.
Audio is gonna be a bit hard to deal with at times for some folks - there's some pretty distinctly british terms getting used around the film, and occasionally a line or two crops up that come across rather quiet that only further exacerbates things. That being said, the actor's all did wonderful jobs with the line delivery, and most of the characters feel much more real for it. To boot, many of the lines are incredibly quotable - from the mundane "You've got red on you" all the way over to "He's got an arm off!" There are also quite a few movie references thrown in here, such as Every Which Way but Loose - both in audio and actions.
By far, the most interesting part of the film is it's use of foreshadowing. It does this in such a manner that you won't realize just what was foreshadowing until it's already happened, which is absolutely wonderful! A lot of films these days tend to dumb things down for a broader audience, and in turn most of the foreshadowing goes wasted as its to such an extent obvious that you see it coming long before it happens. Here, however, its so subtly done that most will respond to it with a "I see what you did there" as opposed to "knew it!"
Overall, as long as you are okay with the general stuff that happens in a zombie movie (what with all the bites and the blood), then it's well worth a check. It remains one of my preferred zombie flicks out simply because of the added humor element that keeps it light hearted for when you just want a movie to put you in a good mood. I'd wager that I feel more attached to the particular band of misfits in this flick more than I did any other zombie movie as well, but that's probably just because their personalities are so likeable here. If you haven't already watched Hot Fuzz , or are planning to catch The World's End , I would highly recommend you check this one, as the references to the previous flicks just make them that much more amusing.