Shaun of the Dead (2004): Subverting the Rom Com, Popular Culture and Zombie Films

Shaun of the Dead

      “Shaun of the Dead” is a film that does a great job satirizing modern society as well as managing to subvert some of the Rom Com tropes as Shaun is a character who most of the time manages to makes situations worse by trying to do right by his relationships. The weakest part of the film is Ed (Nick Frost) who seems to function as one big joke and in a way wasn’t needed for Shaun’s story to be told.

       The film was directed by Edgar Wright who wrote it with Simon Pegg and produced by Nira Park.

      The story involves Shaun (Nick Frost) and Ed (Nick Frost) missing the Zombie apocalypse until it is in their home forcing Shaun to reconcile with his family and ex named Liz (Kate Ashfield) as he becomes the leader of the group and plans to get them to the pub called the Winchester, believing it to be the only safe place in the city.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful (as is the editing) as the soundtrack is beautifully put into the film to reflect the characters and situations. For example when David is working the lights it is like a concert with the zombies moving to the lights and music while Liz and Shaun fight to Queen. David M. Dunlap did a great job.

The Action – The action is great in this and given that these are slow walkers that says something…the Zombies actually manage to be threatening and a force even if most of the problems that happen are caused by Shaun and his own stupidity and the stupidity of his party.

The Characters – The characters are tropes in this but they get enough development that they feel real. I know people like these characters so it manages to actually be compelling in regards to what happens to them.

Pete – Pete is a dick but he also tries to be as open and supportive as he can even though Ed is giving nothing to rent and their life and he only turns on Shaun and Ed after he is bitten and can’t get any sleep because they are drunk and mixing records as Liz had just dumped Shaun that day.

Philip – Bill Nighy plays Shaun’s step-dad who was always hard on him but finally admits he’s loved him all along before he turns. He is a great character as we we gruff man not used to showing feelings finally opening up at the end and in turn revealing Shaun’s tender side too. It was great seeing him again in this too as before I’d only seen him as Davy Jones in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” Trilogy.

Barbara – Penelope Wilton (the Prime Minister from “Doctor Who”) is great in this as the mom who doesn’t want to intrude upon Shaun’s life. She is super sweet and when she dies you feel it as she was someone doing the best she could and living the theme of survival.

David and Dianne – Dianne is an out of work actress but comes up with the brilliant idea of them pretending to be zombies to get into the Winchester. David was always crushing on Liz and Dianne helped him get over it, him ignoring and denying that hurts her a lot and she goes to protect him when he is being devoured alive by zombies leading to her implied death too.

Yvonne and her Party – Yvonne is the one who seeks out the British Army and saves Liz and Shaun who are the only ones in their party who survive the apocalypse. She is always on it and is the only one with a clear head in all the events that go down. Her boyfriend is also played by Martin Freeman and the characters in her party mirror Shaun’s party. The romantic relationship – Martin and Liz as an example.

Subverting the Rom Com – In the Rom Com the man child (Shaun) usually grows up and redeems himself showing that he is a good guy. In this he is the same guy after he just now knows he courageous and has dealt with all his repressed feelings. When he is the leader he isn’t very good at it and he brought them to the Winchester which was an open pub surrounded by Zombies…nothing he does really helps and his friend

We are the Zombies – The way this is shown best is Shaun in his retail job where everyone is repeating the same phrases again and again, his morning routine as the apocalypse unfolds and him not noticing until a zombie is in his home and the television showing the crap reality television shows before and after the apocalypse and how they were essentially still the same.

Okay: Ed – I couldn’t stand this character, which might have been part of the point. He is selfish, lazy and doesn’t do anything for anyone without first measuring how it benefits himself. I think he was meant to be a joke though as he is played as normal after he turns at the end, showing he was a Zombie in a way, all along.

I would actually rate “Hot Fuzz” higher in the Cornetto Trilogy at this point as I found Nick Frost’s Danny a much more compelling character than Ed (who exists in every film of this nature usually played by Seth Rogen or a Sandler actor) and though I consider this film a favorite and found the overall satire hilarious, “Hot Fuzz” had better payoff with the jokes and dialogue. Still, this is one of the best satires, horrors and comedies and without a doubt my favorite zombie film I have ever watched.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Hot Fuzz (2007): A Brilliant Satire of Cop Films with a Compelling Story

Hot Fuzz

      “Hot Fuzz” is amazing, though it is in steep competition to be the best film in Pegg’s and Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. This is a film that captures the absurdity of both television and film cop dramas, while also shining a light and critiquing small town and city culture at the same time…while giving our stars character arcs! There is a lot that is needed for a comedy to work, and this film manages to achieve that.

     The film was directed by Edgar Wright who also wrote it with Simon Pegg while being produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story involves Sgt, Nick Angel (Simon Pegg) the best cop in London being sent to the village of Sandford since his stats are making his fellow cops look bad on the force. In Sandford he soon learns all is not as it appears to be as mysterious deaths continue to pop around town accompanied by hooded figures running from the scenes of the crimes. He must work with the Police Chief in Sandford’s son PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) in order to solve the case and the dark side of the village.

The Pros: The London Police Authorities – Martin Freeman appears as Nick Angel’s higher up as do two other actors but Freeman was the most memorable as the one trying to make the demotion look like a promotion. By the time the highest one is reached he tells Angel that he being sent away because he is too good and makes them all look bad. It’s a really hilarious joke and critique of the City.

The Cinematography – Jess Hall did a fantastic job on the cinematography. The film is polished and looks like a modern day cop drama as it emphasizes eyes, guns and loss whenever someone gets shot. It’s really good work and we see the use of darkness used to build tension.

The Writing – The writing is hilarious. Wright and Pegg are a great pair and know their comedy well, and not just comedy…they give their characters arc. Nick Angel and Danny Butterman are not static characters, events and circumstances change them and help them to grow into better people than they were before.

Callback Jokes – The callback jokes are wonderful! At one point they run into an old man named Webler (played by David Bradley) who has a whole bunch of guns and a water mine which doesn’t work…Nick and Danny later use the guns to attack the NWA and the mine is used to kill the last one who tries to kill Nick at the end before the mine destroys the Station.

The Satire – The Satire is brilliant! From the NWA being so concerned with appearances that they murder for it, Danny being obsessed with cop films and doing events from said films (“Point Break” and “Bad Boys” as an example) and Angel rejecting it not realizing he is the trope before he finally embraces at the end, and with it all the paperwork.

Sandford – Sandford is an idyllic small town, it is mostly farms with a few stores and we see that everyone knows everyone. All the small town tropes exist here, from the village gossip, the crappy journalist and the overbearing Police Chief in a town obsessed with conformity.

Simon Skinner – Timothy Dalton does a good job as the CEO of the convenience store who is set up to be the big bad but is only one of the many members of the NWA responsible for the murders. He is good at being creepy and overbearing to everyone around him as he only speaks in threats.

The Sandford Police Force – The Sandford Police Force is wonderful, Olivia Colman plays the only woman on the police force and there are two mustached guys and one nervous guy who does whatever Nick says but is also a good strategist…they all break and embrace the tropes they were written into leading to a great faceoff in Skinner’s store at the end.

Frank Butterman – Jim Broadbent is wonderful as the likable but for appearance of useless Police Commissioner who is all about village appearances. He is a good antagonist as we see he is the way he is after his wife killed herself since she was so obsessed with winning the competition. He is good at leading Nick Angel on false leads and he is the unspoken leader of the NWA.

PC Danny Butterman – Danny’s arc is realizing how serious it is to be a cop and dealing with the truth of his father…after he does he is able to turn the police force against his dad and help take out the NWA with Nick as we see that they now compliment each other as Danny’s socialness is what helps Nick Angel get outside of his obsession with the job as Nick’s obsession rubs off on Danny and helps Danny to become a hero and good cop.

Sgt. Nick Angel – Nick is man obsessed with being the best cop to the point that he lost his relationship and is alone with his plant. It takes Danny (who he arrests when he first arrives in Sandford) slowly getting him out of his shell and helping him open up that we see him mellow out and become not just a good cop in doing the right things to catch the bad guys, but also in how he treats others…this arc is completed in him choosing to stay in Sandford at the end, rather than returning to London when Freeman’s character offers him the chance (since things have gotten so bad after him leaving). Simon Pegg is brilliant and the best part of the film.

Okay/Cons – Pacing – There are a few moments where the film drags, this is partially due to the film being very quick in it’s action. This is the only real con outside of a plot hole I’ll list in the next one.

The Cons: Where are the Families of the Missing People – The Neighborhood Watch Alliance and Associates (NWA) kills anyone who makes the town look bad (the hoodies, the kids who were drinking in the pub) so that they continue to win town of the year…where were the families of the people killed? My theory was that they were living in fear of the NWA but we never have conformation of this, so that was a small thing that bothered me in the film.

   This might be my film in the Cornetto Trilogy, though “Shaun of the Dead” is hard to beat and may still be better. Regardless, this is a film I’d highly recommend. If you like a great satire, comedy and film that celebrates Cop Dramas while at the same time celebrating aspects of them and the tropes they invented, you will like this film. It’s one of my favorites and one I will no doubt watch again in the future.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10