The zombie film had been somewhat neglected in mainstream cinema until resurrected (if that’s the right phrase) two years ago by Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later – although technically the 'monsters’ in that film were diseased humans, not zombies. We’ve had a remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead in our cinemas over the past few months, indeed it had the prestigious honour of knocking The Passion Of The Christ off the number on spot in the United States, prompting what I think is the best headline of recent years: 'Jesus battles the zombies at the US box office’ (Screen Weekly, India).
George A. Romero referred to his zombies as 'the silent majority’ – this was Richard Nixon’s own phrase to describe the voters he was appealing to in his 1968 presidential campaign – those who weren’t engaged in public demonstrations, were sick of civil unrest caused by the hippie counterculture and most of all, had respect for authority. In other words, keep quiet, do as your told and don’t think. You can see why Romero made the zombie analogy.
I don’t think writers Simon Pegg (who plays our eponymous hero) and Edgar Wright (who directs) were making a Romeroesque comparison between the vacant, glassy eyed hordes of London’s Crouch End and Tony Blair’s loyal electorate (although it’s possible); this seems to be more of an observation of how modern Britons live and work. It’s hard to know if the dazed-looking individuals commuting to work at the start of the film are in the early stages of zombification or not – if you take a close look at commuters and supermarket checkout staff, you’ll see where Pegg and Wright got their inspiration.
Shaun is a metaphorical zombie, shuffling through life without any real purpose; a college graduate, yet at 28 still only an assistant manager at a local electric goods shop, treated with thinly disguised contempt by his teenage underlings. Shaun shares a house with Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), an uptight friend from college and Ed (Nick Frost), a lazy slob of from Shaun’s school days who manages to be even more useless than Shaun – his only discernible talent being his passable impression of Clyde the orang-utan from Any Which Way But Loose.
When Shaun’s girlfriend (Kate Ashfield) dumps him after one too many nights out in the rather insalubrious local pub, Shaun drowns his sorrows with Ed and awakes the following morning to find Crouch End crawling with zombies. Shaun takes this opportunity to save Liz and prove that he’s not such a loser after all.
Anybody who has seen the Channel 4 sitcom Spaced, which was written by Pegg and co-starred Nick Frost, will know what to expect from this film, which in fact feels like a feature-long episode of the show – that’s no criticism as Spaced is one of the funniest sitcoms of recent years. There are cameos from most of the Spaced cast, and members of cult sitcoms such as Black Books, (Dylan Moran is one of the co-stars), The League Of Gentlemen and Little Britain. As such, the humour is very English – where the Americans battle zombies with baseball bats and heavy artillery, Shaun and Ed use cricket bats and a Winchester rifle. And I can’t see our American cousins taking a break from dispatching zombies by having a sit down and a cup of tea. It’s also good to see a British film that has nothing to do with Richard Curtis and his vision of London where everybody’s white and middle class. Long may this trend continue.