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Shaun of the Dead – Review

Director: Edgar Wright

Year Released: 2004

It’s just one of those days when you’re feeling a little…dead.

Plot/Review: ‘You’ve got red on you…’ Shaun of the Dead, the British romantic zombie comedy created by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, is an affectionate homage to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and was an instant success upon its release.

The film is focused on a young computer salesman named Shaun (played by Simon Pegg) who seems to be stuck in a hapless rut in life – he’s going nowhere with a dead-end job, he loves his mum Barbara (Penelope Wilton) but has issues with his step-dad Philip (Bill Nighy) and he lives with his layabout best friend Ed (Nick Frost) who is currently jobless and never lifts a finger around the flat, much to the annoyance of fellow flatmate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz). Besides trying to keep the peace at home, Shaun also struggles to maintain a fragile relationship with girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) who frequently complains about his lack of ambition and zest for life. However, all that’s about to change now that the flesh-eating undead have emerged…

At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Shaun who sips a pint while staring vacantly into space. He is joined in The Winchester pub by best friend Ed, his girlfriend Liz and her flatmates: a lecturer named David (Dylan Moran) and an aspiring actress called Dianne (Lucy Davis). Liz tries to encourage Shaun to be more adventurous, rather than wasting away in a pub every night. She then insists that they should spend more quality time together as a couple. At this, Shaun offers to book a meal for Liz and himself the following night and promises that things will change. He then resumes his vacant stare and the title sequence follows.

In the early hours of the following morning, Shaun slowly shuffles into the living room of his flat where he meets Ed who plays TimeSplitters 2. Shaun sits down to join Ed’s game until he is reminded of the fact that he should be at work. While Shaun prepares for work, his fellow flatmate Pete complains about the fact that Ed does nothing to help out. Despite Pete’s complaints, Shaun sticks up for Ed. Before he heads out, Shaun asks Ed to at least take down any messages while he and Pete are out. On his way to work, snippets of radio announcements can be heard regarding a space probe which had unexpectedly re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over England. Newspapers can also be seen with headlines such as ‘New Super-Flu Scares Public’ and ‘GM Crops To Blame’. Shaun eventually arrives at his place of work, Foree Electric (named after Ken Foree who starred in Dawn of the Dead) and goes about presenting television sets to potential customers. He gets caught up watching a news report concerning outlandish attacks when he is interrupted abruptly with news of his stepdad’s arrival. After a cold, awkward greeting, Philip reminds Shaun of his bimonthly visit to his mother the following day and advises him to bring the flowers he forget to bring her on Mother’s Day. Philip leaves quickly and military trucks can be seen driving past as he walks down the street. After work, Shaun heads out to buy flowers for his mum while the world slowly falls apart around him – people are collapsing in the street, ambulances fly past and vagrants act bizarrely and attempt to devour pigeons. On the way home, Shaun runs into Yvonne (Jessica Stevenson), an old friend.

When Yvonne inquires after his girlfriend and their anniversary plans, Shaun suddenly realises that he completely forgot to book a table for their meal. He dashes home and desperately tries to get through to the restaurant, only to find that they just gave away the last table. He then receives a call from Liz who asks about their plans for the evening. When he reveals that he never booked the table, he takes Ed’s poor advice and suggests The Winchester. Liz hangs up at once. Shaun then grabs the flowers meant for his mother and makes his way to his girlfriend’s flat to patch things up.

When Shaun arrives at Liz’s place, David and Dianne refuse to let him in. Shaun threatens to scale the building and come in through the window but when he fails to do so, they agree to let him in. Liz however, is not so easily convinced. The couple have a terrible blowout while Liz’s two friends stand uncomfortably in the other room – David however, appears to be enjoying the break-up happening in front of him. It becomes clear that Liz can no longer tolerate Shaun’s empty promises and she refuses to spend every night drinking herself to death in the same dreary pub. As a result, Liz feels that she has no option but end the relationship, leaving Shaun and his flowers outside in the pouring rain, crushed and broken. Distraught, Shaun heads over to The Winchester to meet Ed and drown his sorrows. Ed does his best to cheer up his friend with all the jokes and chimp impressions he can muster. Just when Ed convinces Shaun that it isn’t the end of the world, a eerie silhouette can be seen approaching the window. The shadowy figure moans and slowly taps at the window, but Ed dismisses the individual as simply being a ‘pisshead’. The drunken pair then make their way home for a hip-hop/electro session, blissfully unaware of the zombie invasion slowly creeping up around them. At 4 o’clock in the morning, a furious Pete storms downstairs and interrupts their dancing as he has to be at work in a few hours. He lets them off when he is informed of Shaun’s breakup but insists that they keep the noise down but when Ed interjects, Pete is ready to hit him. Shaun immediately steps in and defends Ed. When Pete tells Shaun to sort his life out, a bandage can be seen on his hand. Pete reveals that he was mugged and bitten on his way home from work. He then heads back up to his room, slamming the front door closed on his way. Later, Shaun stumbles into the kitchen, scribbles a message down on the memo pad on the fridge and passes out in a chair.

Hours later, Shaun awakens and is able to decipher the drunken scrawl he had written earlier – ‘Go round Mums. Get Liz back. SORT LIFE OUT!’ He then checks in on Ed who asks for a Cornetto from the shop. Shaun sleepily leaves the house and heads to the shop, oblivious to the destruction and devastation around him – broken car windows, terrified individuals running in fear and the shuffling undead in the distance. He enters the shop and grabs the ice-cream and a drink from the fridge, failing to notice the bloody handprints on the glass door. When the shopkeeper fails to make an appearance (he is in fact shambling around at the back of the shop), Shaun leaves some change and returns home, passing several zombies on the way. When he gets back, he starts watching some disturbing news reports – events seem to be getting worse and more widespread. Ed then speaks out from behind the curtain and informs Shaun that there is a girl in the garden. The pair head out to the garden to find the girl (played by Nicola Cunningham) who is stood with her back to them. They try calling out to her and she slowly turns around in response and staggers towards them. Shaun and Ed see from her name badge that she is called Mary and assume that she is incredibly drunk. She suddenly lunges at Shaun. While he struggles with the girl, Ed rushes back into the house and, to Shaun’s annoyance, returns with a camera. Shaun then notices that something is very wrong with Mary’s eyes when Ed takes their picture and pulls her off his friend. When she ignores Shaun’s warning to back off, Shaun pushes her away causing her to stumble back and impale herself on a broken metal pole. Shaun and Ed watch on in horror as she manages to pull herself back up and walk towards them, despite having an unsightly hole in her gut. When the pair turn back towards the house they are met by a large man in a similar condition to Mary. They manage to get back into the house and try to contact the emergency services as the two infected individuals continue to claw at the door. With the emergency lines engaged, Shaun decides that their best plan of action is to have a sit down.

Next, Shaun switches on the television to gain a better understanding of their situation. According to the news reports, the motorways are in utter chaos as people try to flee the area. The reports go on to warn people to stay in their homes and lock all doors and windows. As Shaun and Ed watch the news, a one-armed zombie staggers in through the open front door and surprises them. Ed smashes a glass ashtray over the zombie’s head causing him to fall to the ground. The new reporter goes on to state that the best way to neutralise the attackers is to remove the head or to destroy the brain. Upon hearing this, Shaun and Ed grab a bunch of blunt, heavy objects and head outside to take out the remaining zombies. Their attempts do little to hinder their rotting assailants until Ed does some considerable damage when he hurls a record at the infected man. This inspires the two to grab Shaun’s record collection and use the crappier records as weapons. Shaun soon gives up on this plan and smashes into the locked shed door. They then equip themselves with a shovel and a cricket bat and take out the two zombies. With the job done, Shaun and Ed go back to the house for a tea break. When they hear the new reporter urges the public to keep any recently bitten individuals isolated, Shaun and Ed look at each other fearfully – they had forgotten all about Pete upstairs…

Reluctantly, Shaun and Ed call up to Pete from the bottom of the stairs but he fails to respond. Shaun suddenly thinks of his mum and girlfriend and immediately tries to get hold of them. Barbara rings him first and reveals that some men tried to get into the house…and they were a bit bitey. To Shaun’s relief, it was Philip that was bitten and not his mum. Shaun and Ed then formulate a plan. After considering their options, they agree that their best bet would be to take Pete’s car, go to his mum’s, kill Philip, grab Liz, go to The Winchester, have a nice cold pint and wait for all this to blow over. The pair then gear themselves up to put the plan into action when Shaun has to go to the bathroom. When he looks in the bathroom, he notices that Pete’s shadow behind him – he is stood behind the shower curtain. Shaun realises that Pete has reanimated and manages to get out just in time. Along with Ed, Shaun manages to evade the surrounding zombies and get to the car. Ed drives them to Barbara’s house where Ed admires Phil’s car. Shaun enters the house and greets his mum while Ed waits in the car. Shaun tries to convince Barbara to come with him but she refuses to leave without Philip so Shaun has no choice but to bring them both. While he was waiting, Ed has deliberately smashed up Pete’s car so they would have to take Phil’s. As they are getting into the car, they are ambushed by an undead crowd and Philip is bitten severely in the neck. Shaun manages to fend off the zombies and gets everyone in the car – Phil is bleeding heavily. The group then head over to Liz’s flat.

Armed with a cricket bat, Shaun makes his way to the flat after being dropped off by the rest of the group who wait in the car. With zombies closing in on him, Shaun has no choice but to climb the side the building and enter Liz’s flat via the window. Shaun insists that Liz comes with them and Dianne agrees. David grudgingly joins them since Liz is going too. Together they fight their way past the undead gathering outside, meet up with Ed and the others and they all pile into the car. It is at this point that Liz is introduced to Shaun’s mum for the first time. On the way to The Winchester, Philip passes away but not before having a heart-to-heart with his stepson. Tearfully, Shaun gets Ed to pull over as he informs his mum of Philip’s death only to discover that he had already reanimated. The group get out of the car immediately, leaving Philip trapped inside. With no transport available and the undead getting closer, the band of survivors has no alternative but to continue on foot.

On the way to the pub, Shaun bumps into Yvonne for a second time, along with her group who each resemble members of his own posse. After hearing of his plans to go to the pub during the zombie apocalypse, Yvonne wishes him luck and they go their separate ways. Shaun then leads his team on a short cut over garden fences. Barbara however soon becomes stranded and gets attacked by a zombie. Shaun rushes to his mother’s aid and incapacitates the zombie by impaling it against a tree using a tennis pole while David and Ed watch on. Shaun climbs to the top of a slide to check if the coast is clear, but it is far from so – Shaun sees that their destination is completely surrounded by the ravenous living dead. However, watching the impaled zombie’s behaviour gives Dianne an idea. She gets the rest of the group to imitate the undead so they can sneak under their radar undetected. Their plan to blend in with the reanimated crowd seems to work, but the group hit a snag when they find that the pub doors are locked. To make matters worse, Ed’s phone goes off in the middle of it all. Shaun is outraged when Ed actually sits down to have the conversation, completely giving away their position. Before Shaun has a chance to tell the others about the back entrance, David chucks a trash can through the front window. Shaun then gives the group the chance to enter by using himself as a decoy. While Shaun is out giving the zombies the slip, the remaining survivors sit in The Winchester. David feebly attempts to take charge while the others anxiously await Shaun’s return. Shaun does indeed return and reassures the others that his plan to misdirect the undead was a success. However, when he goes to the backroom to get the power back on, he flicks a switch illuminating the backyard which is now crawling with the infected – the zombies had followed him back. Filled with dread, Shaun returns to the others and informs Liz of their new dilemma. Liz insists that they will be alright as long as they remain as quiet as possible. It is at this point that Ed foolishly fires up a nearby fruit machine, alerting every undead individual in the surrounding area.

The next scene takes a rather grim turn as zombies manage to break into their fortress from all angles. Shaun grabs the rifle from above the bar and, with help from the others, attempts to fend off the invading zombies. Barbara then reveals that she had been bitten badly on her arm some time ago but hadn’t said anything as she didn’t want to worry her son. The rest of the group watch on in tears as Shaun holds his dying mother in his hands. When she passes away, David aims the rifle at her corpse claiming that soon she’ll be just another zombie – this infuriates Shaun and Ed. After a heated argument, it becomes apparent that David has feelings for Liz. In the meantime, Barbara reanimates and is shot by Shaun. When David interrupts the subsequent moment’s silence, Shaun punches him to the ground and then David, in a cowardly move, grabs the rifle and fires empty rounds at Shaun. With no one on his side, David takes a step towards the front door and begins to break through the barricade. Dianne tells David to stop and he then apologises to her and begins to apologise to Shaun. Before he has a chance to finish his apology, David is dragged out into street through a broken window by an undead crowd and is literally torn into pieces. Dianne grabs David’s dismembered leg and attempts to beat her way through the flesh-craving mob to reach him. The zombified Pete then makes an appearance and bites Ed when he tries to tackle him. Shaun shoots Pete and jumps behind the bar along with Liz and then Ed who is bleeding profusely. When things look hopeless, they discover a trapdoor leading to the cellar and climb down. In the cellar Shaun and Liz come across a lift which leads out into the street but Ed, who is clearly not going to make it, insists that they leave him behind. As zombies continue to pound at the cellar door, Shaun and Liz say their goodbyes and make their way to the surface. With many zombies staggering around above ground, the couple prepare for combat when the street is suddenly bombarded with military trucks and personnel, as well as Yvonne, who clear the area.

Six months on from these devastating events and the situation seems to be finally under control – according to news reports, the few remaining members of the living dead are now being used as a source of cheap manual labour and entertainment. Shaun and Liz have also reunited and now live together. One lazy Sunday morning, the pair get up and Shaun heads out to the garden shed, where his reanimated best friend Ed has been tied up ever since, to join in on a game of TimeSplitters 2.

Despite being more of a light-hearted take on the zombie apocalypse, this film does have some genuinely creepy moments – particularly in the early chapters which see the undead slowly but surely shuffle into the picture, unbeknownst to Shaun. There is also ample guts and gore splattered throughout, without going into overkill. I also love the use of music from the original Dawn at various points along the way. The creators of this project are clearly big fans of Romero’s work and you can tell they really enjoyed working on it. In addition, the cast is terrific and many familiar faces make an appearance, including Reece Shearsmith and Tamsin Greig. The DVD special features are also worth noting, particularly ‘Plot Holes’ – various comic strip stories (created by Oscar Wright, the director’s brother) which depict the actions of certain characters after the main events of the film – they are very well done, as well as the audio commentaries which I found funny and engaging.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, it has it all – guts, gore, action, humour and, of course, zombies. Shaun of the Dead was very nicely put together and is one of those films that can be watched time and time again – a fitting tribute to Romero’s classic.