'Shaun of the Dead' scares with more than just zombies

Posted: Thursday, November 04, 2004

'Shaun of the Dead'

Rating: ****

Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield and Nick Frost.

Director: Edgar Wright

Parent's guide: R.

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

The undead have found their way onto the screen once more. No longer are zombie films a victual for late night programming, but they are being resurrected and brought to life in a cinema near you. But "Shaun of the Dead" is not just another zombie film or a parody of the master works by George Romero. It doesn't feel empty like 2002's "28 Days Later" or last year's "Dawn of the Dead" remake; instead it has feelings as well as a conscious.

This British film, directed by Edgar Wright, moves along with the restraint of a young child playing with a balloon in a machine shop. Carefully bobbing around from one close call to the next, seemingly ready to burst and fall apart at any moment, but indefatigably entertaining.

The film's title is a play on the 1978 classic "Dawn of the Dead," a film about a group of individuals who set up base in a shopping mall to fight off the undead masses, and in turn is a commentary on consumerism. That conclusion is justified by the lines from that film about the zombies unconsciously returning to a place where they spent most of their time when they were alive, and the protagonists' enthusiasm for indulging themselves in merchandise which, given the present state of things, is useless. "Shaun of the Dead" follows a similar social commentary by telling the story of deadbeat named Shaun.

Shaun's (Simon Pegg) greatest joy in life is going to the local pub, the Winchester, with all of his friends. Those are basically just his best pal Ed (Nick Frost) and his girl Liz (Kate Ashfield), but Liz's flatmates come along because they have nothing better to do. His biggest concerns in life are his job, his nights at the pub, and his record collection; he's oblivious to the fact that there is an outbreak of the undead all around him. It's not that he doesn't care about those around him, his girl and his mom. He's just too busy doing nothing to realize anything is wrong.

But then he gets a wakeup call when Liz tells him that it's over. She can't date someone who doesn't have any plans for the future. His response is to get drunk and make a note on his fridge before he passes out. That note becomes the catalyst for the story that unfolds the next day.

Shaun could be like anybody going about their day-to-day lives. Push the snooze, press the elevator call button and slip into mindless monotony until the day you die. Working hard for the latest and greatest something we don't need, so we can throw it away three months later. The only thing that evokes any emotion is the gleam on the shiny objects that drive us toward our deaths. The only reason to care about those around us is because we need them to reaffirm our social status based on our material possessions. It is not until we feel death's wicked bite, do we realize that the most important things in life are free.

"Shaun of the Dead" isn't just another gory zombie film. It's a film with heart. It uses more than predictable scare tactics to get a reaction out of the audience.

• Brice Habeger is a Juneau native who is taking a break from attending film school in Chicago.

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