The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Shaun, Ed battle dead

By Colin Carr

The screenplay for “Shaun of the Dead,” written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, accomplishes the delicate balancing act of making wry and absurdist comedy work in the context of an explicit zombie bloodbath. Part of the project’s excitement stems from the realization that these polar genre extremes actually synthesize with a certain elegance.
“Shaun of the Day” isn’t the first film to realize the fruitfulness of this fusion. Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” did it decades ago and did it with more ingenuity. But “Shaun of the Dead” works because it knows how far it can push us in a given direction. The writers realize (despite a few lapses in judgment here and there) that the humor can only work if there are characters we care about at the center of the mayhem. But they also have the nerve to realize that the sight of maurauding cannibals, dressed in bathrobes, moaning coitally and missing limbs, has the perverse potential to be funny.
And, when the brutality goes too far, costars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have the charisma to keep things relatively grounded. The two play Shaun and Ed, respectively, best friends living in London. As the movie opens Shaun is having a mediocre day. No one at his job takes him seriously. He lives in a crummy apartment—all the more of a dump because he shares it with Ed. Even his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is losing interest in him, frustrated with the rut he has gotten himself into. However, when a zombie attack breaks out onto the streets, Shaun sees an opportunity to become a hero and turn his life around.
This motivation does wonders in grounding this otherwise-spectacular story in mundane reality while highlighting the discordance of the story elements being fused. As we witness the collapse of civilization as we know it, we are asked to be primarily concerned for the status of a slovenly bachelor’s love life. His self-centered “heroism” is made even more dubious by his sidekick Ed, who spends much of his time drunk and whose default line in difficult situations is “I’ve got nothing.” But this madness works because Pegg and Frost have enough cockeyed charm to make us want their simple lives to be kept intact. Moreover, their “heroism” also works because they have a fitting group of adversaries. The zombies are as clumsy and foolhardy as Shaun and Ed tend to be after a long Friday night.
The film ends on a bleakly satirical note that it doesn’t quite earn. It attempts a critique on middleclass British life, suggesting it to be its own kind of zombie-ishness. The comparison might be apt in another movie but, considering the lengths to which the filmmakers go to make us care about these characters’ lives, the satirical conclusion seems like a callous afterthought. In the end, “Shaun of the Dead” nevertheless pulls off a tricky enough project to redeem this shortcoming.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *