“You’ve got red on you.”
Compared to other genres, horror and comedy lend a lot to each other in being able to get the most emotion out of their audiences, whether it be dreaded fear or joyful laughter. These genres often work hand in hand to create such a memorable experience and no filmmaker has been able to combine these two together more effectively than Edgar Wright. After directing Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on the British comedy television series Spaced, Wright brings them back together for the first entry into his cult-favorite Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. Shaun of the Dead is an excellent genre-fusing film that not only touches on the simple humor that can arise from the apocalypse, but also the horrors of seeing how long friendships and relationships can survive the undead.
Shaun (Simon Pegg), a careless slacker living with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost), tries his hardest to maintain the relationship with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) but finds it increasingly difficult to accept any kind of change. Along with his love life, Shaun finds his world in turmoil as an unexpected zombie apocalypse breaks out across the globe and infects his small town in South London, endangering Liz and Shaun’s family. Realizing how indolent he has always been, Shaun must step up and become the man that no one would ever expect him to be.
Whether you watch Shaun of the Dead for its zombie horror or its romantic-comedy aspects, there will be enough substance to satisfy either. This fusion of genres is incredibly effective and pulled off with the lovable style that Wright has practically trademarked. Wright’s script provides the perfect playground for the titular hero to experience his life turned upside down. While the film starts with showing how forgettable and mundane an everyday walk to the corner shop can be for Shaun, it eerily transitions into the devastated wasteland that the same walk becomes mere days later. Executed with drab comedy as Shaun reveals himself to be a bit of a halfwit, this contrast eases the audience into the horror aspect of the film so well. Nothing is more terrifying than seeing what your normal routine would be like infested with the undead and the existential dread that comes with realizing life will never be the same again. Also riddled with plenty of tense scenes and playful jabs at the genre, Shaun of the Dead respectfully pays homage to George Romero and the many zombie films before it in the most satirical yet smart fashion.
Flawlessly bouncing back and forth between horror and comedy, Wright is able to make an endlessly entertaining ride full of recurring gags and punchlines that will take multiple rewatches to completely absorb. While the terror of possibly getting your flesh eaten is what drives Shaun of the Dead, humor is one of its most memorable parts, particularly in its visuals. This kind of comedy has proven to be Wright’s forte and this film is no exception. The incredibly quick dialogue and sharp whips of the camera are condensed with so much blink-and-you’ll-miss-it humor that it is often a lot to process. However, once you get used to his rapid-fire style, the script never ceases to deliver. The many full-circle jokes and minute gags hidden throughout this film are written with such precise detail that only Wright could maintain. What Shaun of the Dead does differently than other, quickly-edited films, however, is have a deeper emotional layer than would be expected. The themes of friendship despite circumstances and doing whatever you need to do for the people you love are fantastic, providing an immense amount of heart. Along with a touch of romance with Liz, Shaun of the Dead navigates this undead world with the joy and ease of what could easily be a much darker film.
At its core, Edgar Wright’s modern take on the undead genre is about how the laziness of certain Gen X-ers can ultimately be more life-threatening than a horde of flesh-eating zombies. Infused with plenty of clever writing and sharp, visual humor, Shaun of the Dead is never to be topped as the perfect balance of genre.