For the first half-hour or so of Shaun of the Dead, the debut feature film by the creators of British cult TV series Spaced, 29-year-old slacker Shaun's (Simon Pegg) biggest problem is that his girlfriend, the lovely Liz (Kate Ashfield), has had enough of him. Enough of his laddish habits, enough of the daily doldrums of the Winchester Tavern pub that provides the couple's "culture," enough of best friend Ed (Nick Frost), the slovenly video-game junkie whose farts still make Shaun giggle.
But all the while, in the background of Shaun of the Dead, something's brewing. Are those really just commuters, spaced out before their morning tea, patrolling Shaun's suburban North London streets? And those news reports on the TV -- something weird's going on, but ... fuck it, let's get drunk, listen to electro and play Tekken.
Writer/star Pegg and director Edgar Wright have managed to pull off a remarkable feat with Shaun of the Dead: An original zombie movie, an original zombie parody, and an original romantic comedy, all in one film. Shaun of the Dead was created to be a cult favorite, but in its native Britain this movie went on to enough commercial and critical success to warrant U.S. release. And while American audiences may ponder at a few cultural in-jokes (ragging on the Stone Roses' sophomore album isn't second nature here), the fact is that so much of Shaun is just simply good script and good direction, that these surprisingly fleshed-out characters and relationships will appeal to us Patriots as much as to Redcoats.
One reason is Pegg and Wright's overt adoration of American films. Wright has stated that they wanted Shaun to be "a companion piece to the Romero [Living Dead] films -- so if the epidemic is happening in Pittsburgh, it's also happening in [London]." So the blood-spattered zombies that eventually threaten Shaun, Liz, Ed and their friends (including The Office star Lucy Davis and British acting institutions Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are hilariously slow-moving and ineffectual, in the Romero tradition, and direct references to other scripts abound. (Shaun yelling to his surrounded mother, "We're coming to get you, Barbara!")
But at its heart, Shaun succeeds because it is very much its own film. Whether it's Shaun and Co., holed up in the Winchester pub, demolishing hundreds of zombies in a fight scene choreographed to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," or Shaun and Liz's relationship ebbing and flowing as they run from a flood of monsters, Shaun's romance is romantic, its comedy hilarious, and its horror, if not actually frightening, at least lovingly and effectively executed.