Shaun (Simon Pegg) has a dead-end job, a girlfriend named Liz (Kate Ashfield) who wants more out of life, and a man-child best friend named Ed (Nick Frost). After Liz breaks up with Shaun, he becomes determined to somehow win her back. He is undeterred by the onset of the zombie apocalypse. Along with Ed, Shaun goes on a journey to find his mom and Liz, kill his stepdad (who's been bitten by a zombie), and hole up in what he assumes is the safest place he could possibly find, his favorite pub, the Winchester.
I can't remember if I saw this when it was showing in theaters, but I do know that my most recent viewing wasn't my first. My primary memory of the movie was that it was funny but had a slow start. I was curious to see how it held up for me on a rewatch.
I enjoyed the movie's mix of droll British humor and zombie horror just as much this time around as I did when I first watched it. I do think I had a better appreciation for the first part of the movie this time, however. The zombie fake-outs and background hints were tons of fun. I loved all the little signs that Shaun kept noticing and promptly forgetting about, like the moment when every single TV channel showed the same news report of some kind of disease outbreak, or the guy Shaun almost witnessed eat a pigeon.
Shaun was so focused on all the little dramas in his own life – his girlfriend breaking up with him, everyone telling him his best friend was a deadbeat, his issues with his stepdad – that he failed to notice the huge, life-threatening stuff going on all around him. I liked that this continued well into the onset of the zombie apocalypse. It resulted in moments that were hilarious, even as I reflexively cringed at all of Shaun's near-disasters.
Once Shaun and Ed finally noticed that the shambling people around them were not just drunk or sick, they started thinking about what to do, but even that progressed fairly slowly. Shaun and Ed's first attempt to kill some zombies was nerve-wracking. I mean, really, how many people would sit there and just calmly throw records at zombies coming their way, no matter how slowly those zombies were moving?
The movie really does take a while to get to the “survival horror” part, although, this time around, I didn't look forward to that part of the movie as much. After people Shaun knows and loves start dying, the humor gets toned down a lot. It's a move I agree with, since it would have been odd and callous-seeming for Shaun and others to have continued to crack jokes, but the result was a darker second half. I enjoyed the lighter first half of the movie more.
I'm a huge wimp when it comes to horror movies, and this one kept things at a level that was usually comfortable for me. There was a bit of decent-looking blood and gore, but the one graphic on-screen death (one of the characters is torn apart and eaten alive by zombies as Shaun and his horrified friends watch) looked fake enough to reassure my inner frightened child.
Considering how many of the characters die, I'm glad this wasn't one of those films that really made me care about any of them. They seemed believable enough as people, but I didn't find myself getting overly attached to most of them. Of all of them, Liz seemed the most together and motivated. David, a friend of Liz's who had secretly been in love with her for years and had always resented that she chose Shaun over him, grated on my nerves. Dianne, David's girlfriend, was just...pathetic. Shaun's mother's obliviousness to the zombie-filled danger around her made me, at times, want to scream, but I did think it reflected well on Shaun that he worked so hard to get her to safety. Ed...well, Ed spent most of the movie acting like a clueless moron. He was practically the definition of "man-child."
Shaun of the Dead's pacing may not be to everyone's taste, but, overall, I think it held up well for me. The jokes still made me laugh, and I enjoyed waiting for the moment Shaun finally realized what was happening around him. It's a fun movie that's good for horror lightweights like myself.
My DVD version comes with tons of extras, but most of them didn't get much more than a "meh" reaction from me. The make-up tests were interesting, and I liked that longer versions of some of the TV spots used in the movie were included (an interview with the band Coldplay, post-zombie apocalypse; a promo for a horrific game show in which viewers are invited to laugh at zombies struggling through obstacle courses for hunks of meat; a "before-the-zombies" and "after-the-zombies" talk show featuring a woman and her husband). The "plot holes" explanations were also nice.
- Army of Darkness (live action movie) - This movie has a higher level of camp than Shaun of the Dead, and the characters are less believable as real people. However, it's still a lot of fun, and it might be good for those looking for another movie that mixes horror and humor.
- Zombieland (live action movie) - Those who were annoyed by Shaun of the Dead's pacing but would like another movie that mixes humor and zombie horror might want to try this.
- Death at a Funeral (live action movie) - If you'd like to try another dark British comedy, you might want to try this. There's no horror, just a lot of craziness centered around the main character's father's funeral. I have written about this movie.
- Hot Fuzz (live action movie) - If you'd like another Simon Pegg and Nick Frost movie, you might want to try this. If I remember correctly, like Shaun of the Dead, this one takes a while to get going.