The Test of Time: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Edgar Wright

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Bill Nighy

THE SUBJECT: It's hard to believe but next year will be the tenth anniversary of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright’s defining work. With their latest semi-parody flick, The World’s End, coming out this weekend, it seems like the perfect time to revisit their first film to see whether or not time has bitch slapped it stupid.

Under the examination: Shaun of the Dead.

THE STORY: Slacker Shaun isn’t living the dream. He has a deadend job and his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), just dumped his lazy ass. While he and his even more slacker roommate Ed (Frost) only want to drink beer and play video games, Liz wants a more…sophisticated relationship. Well, none of that really matters once zombies start attacking and people start getting dead. It’s up to Shaun (and Ed) save his parents, win back his girlfriend, and make it to the pub for safety. WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: With the near saturation of all things zombies as of late, I was curious to see if Shaun of the Dead would stay play as well as I remembered it. It did. In fact, the movie played better than expected, better than what my memory...well, remembered.

There’s something about Pegg and Frost (and obviously co-writer and director Wright) that makes for one of those special dynamic trio. We’ve seen them here and there over the years, but mostly only in pairs (think Depp/Burton, Campbell/Raimi). But the triple threat is more rare. I think Gibson, Glover, Donner had it. DeNiro, Pesci, Scorese had it. (I know there’s many more there…but I have an article to write). Ten years later, I’m glad the three of them haven’t been pumping out movies together for the sake of doing that. Or attempting to make something they are not. Oh sure, each of them have branched out (I never realized Martin Freeman has a cameo here…talk about hitting it big) and done their own things, but they seem to be picky about what project brings them together...and what to parody.

And Shaun of the Dead isn’t just a parody. If it was as simple as that we wouldn’t give a damn about the characters, but Shaun of the Dead gives us characters we immediately care for. Pegg has a way of portraying the average slug (no offense) that makes you instantly like him without the movie wasting time or forcing the story. They keep it simple. We see his relationships. We see his home life. We see his daily commute. We see his job. What more do we need to define the guy? Pegg and Frost resemble the everyman, the kind of dude we can all relate to. Their dynamic works because Frost plays Ed like the traditional, lovable asshole who doesn't know any betterr. They probably still shouldn’t be friends, but that “guy” bond is never questioned. Obviously, being a zombie movie is what brought attention to it. The zombie attacks aren’t overly done or done overly comical where no one gives a shit if characters live or die. We can take it somewhat seriously. When zombies are out roaming for flesh, we feel the terror. We feel the characters' plights. Take the scene where Shaun and Ed first encounter the female zombie and fat guy in their backyard. The viewer might know what's up, but they don’t. By taking pictures of the attack, we understand and remember that they don’t know they’re in a zombie flick. And that’s what makes it fun. Even though Ed never really takes anything seriously, there’s still drama and conflict that’s relatable. Ok, that sounds all a little too serious film talk, but it’s true. It’s what makes Shaun of the Dead one badass movie. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Shaun of the Dead is a tough movie to either a) talk shit about or b) pick apart just for the sake of being overly critical. There’s a good reason this movie found its way to the main stream. It’s a smart, damn funny parody that older’t play like a parody. It plays like its own, unique movie that happens to make a whole hell of a lot of references to “dead” movies. But that doesn't mean it’s perfect. Time has already taken a nibble out of it as parts feel a little in the dated side. The culture references sound oldish, and even the direction style appears antiquated with the quick cuts and exaggerated zooms. As sharp as the dialogue is, it’s interesting rewatching early Pegg and early Frost work. I think their dynamic is probably better defined. But like I said. This is a tough one to break down because damn it...its really good.

THE VERDICT: Shaun of the Dead still works. And in another decade when audiences tire of the zombie love (we will, just like we’re all sick of vampires. We’ll need some breathing room and then we’ll love them again.), Shaun of the Dead will still play. No one will ever confuse it with one of those cheap ploys or quick studio cash grabs. It’ll stand on its own slow moving feet.






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