In my experience it’s usually unwise to watch a movie for a single image, scene, or exchange of hilarious dialogue as seen in a preview. The snippet is frequently taken out of context, not present in the theatrical release, or doesn’t exactly unfold the way it does in the trailer. In the case of “Shaun of the Dead” (Edgar Wright), though, there is every reason to watch the movie for that one moment. For me, it was the roughly twenty seconds of Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) beat-boxing while a human figure in the background limps and emits guttural groans. Marketed as “a romantic comedy with zombies,” “Shaun of the Dead” follows an atypical hero’s victory over hordes of the walking dead.
Shaun works at a household appliance and electronics store, and as depicted in the movie his life is governed by routine. Day in and day out he goes to work, plays videogames, goes to the local pub, the Winchester, and tells his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) that he’ll break bad habits and change. Referencing Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (but in reverse), Wright’s film argues that sometimes it takes an attack by zombies to convince a man to be a better one. The film also subtly critiques modern society’s neglect of and over-attentiveness to the news. Throughout the film, the news can be heard in the background, but because the characters couldn’t care less about it, they talk over the “important stuff” or change channels. “Shaun of the Dead” never provides a clear explanation for the existence of the living dead, but within the larger scheme of the narrative and its themes, it doesn’t matter.
Although this British import has been more or less summarized as a zombie parody, it’s a bonafide zombie film. The humor is incredible and you will laugh until you nearly wet yourself, but the film is also quite scary. The zombie gore and makeup isn’t comical—it’s pretty nasty. Ordinarily a film that is too funny to be horror and too frightening to be comedy receives criticism for its neither-here-nor-there quality. “Shaun of the Dead,” however, successfully blends comedy, horror, suspense, a killer soundtrack, and social commentary into ninety-nine minutes of cinematic sweetness.