In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Pegg and Wright might have delivered one of the all time great slacker comedies, but it’s their obvious hard work and attention to every single last detail that makes it such a breeze to watch.”
“How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”
These days, Simon Pegg is an actor and writer with a fervent cult following, as well as ever growing roles in two massive cinematic franchises with the Mission Impossible and rebooted Star Trek series. These days, Edgar Wright is the kind of director who can put together a cast including Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey and Jon Hamm for some throwback, action, genre fun. But back in 2004, they were just two dudes who’d made a couple of series of a mildly successful sitcom with a small but rabid fan base, with virtually no notoriety outside of their native UK. Not only was the transformation to international A-listers immediate, it was also totally justified, by Shaun of the Dead.
At his local pub the Winchester, Shaun (Pegg) is questioned by his girlfriend (Kate Ashfield as Liz) about his aimless life, consisting of his lazy best friend Ed (Nick Frost), his reluctance to introduce Liz to his mother (Penelope Wilton as Barbara) and is overall avoidance of growing up, generally achieved by hanging out with Ed at the Winchester. When an attempt to celebrate their anniversary is botched by Shaun’s slacker uselessness, Liz’s threats become a reality and Shaun’s world comes crashing down.
Commiserating with Ed over a few pints, Shaun wakes up to a hangover and news that the world has literally come crashing down over night. The dead have risen and the streets are filled with lumbering zombies with a taste for the flesh of those still breathing. All of sudden, Shaun’s declaration to sort his life out has much more serious consequences as he vows to save his mother and the love of his life from the undead horde. And the only way to do that, so to seek refuge at… The Winchester.
Shaun of the Dead takes several ingredients that even in 2004 were way over used. A slacker buddy movie, an ironic generation X twist on dated genre, post modern, overblown film making by dudes who had grown up on Steven Spielberg sentimentality and Sam Raimi graphic gore. But this movie proves that it’s not necessarily what you use, it’s how you use it. The bromance angle might not be fresh, but Pegg and Frost have such a natural chemistry, that it works. And Wright’s visual flare is so precise and exact, his whip pans, crash zooms and smash cuts go beyond homage, they’re the real deal.
12 years ago, I had no idea who Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright were, and I had no interest in zombie movies or spoof movies. But Shaun of the Dead had enough positive buzz that I risked the price of a movie ticket on it anyway. A few hours later I was back home, trying to find out absolutely everything I could about these dudes and what other work of theirs was waiting to be consumed. Since then, I’ve been there opening week to see their two collaborative follow ups (Hot Fuzz and The World’s End). And Wright’s work in particular (I’m looking at you, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) has been flawless in all the years that followed.
All of that is to say, I always knew re-watching Shaun of the Dead for the first time in close to a decade was going to be an enjoyable experience. What I didn’t expect was that it would have somehow become even better. What was just a really funny, really fun, really clever, really energetic movie back then, is so much more now. Because now, I have over a decade of learning Pegg and Wrights rhythms and cinematic language under my belt. Now I can see and appreciate so much that simply flew right by me back in the day.
The foreshadowing, the call backs, the intricate visual hints, jokes and references that fill absolutely every last millimetre of this movie are just so plentiful and dense. And a movie can only support that kind of mass if it’s perfectly structured in absolutely every single way. Pegg and Wright might have delivered one of the all time great slacker comedies, but it’s their obvious hard work and attention to every single last detail that makes it such a breeze to watch.