Throughout “Spooktober,” Nicklaus Neitling reviews one horror property each weekday.
Edgar Wright’s directorial debut, Shaun of the Dead, is the best of the three zombie movie wide releases from 2004 to 2005, beating out Dawn of the Dead and Land of the Dead.
The film begins with Shaun’s (Simon Pegg) breakup with girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) and follows him as he continues to coast aimlessly through life. He ignores his mother (Penelope Wilton) and stepfather Phil (Bill Nighy). He hates his successful neighbour Pete (Peter Serafinowicz). He can’t stand his (ex-)girlfriend’s friends, David (Dylan Moran) and Daphne (Lucy Davis). Shaun hates his job and coworkers. Point being, Shaun can’t find a sense of purpose — until purpose breaks into his house in the form of a zombie, forcing Shaun and his reluctant flatmate Ed (Nick Frost) to rescue his mom, his (ex-)girlfriend, and her friends.
Spoilers for Shaun of the Dead.
I’m going to ignore the film’s rom-com aspect and focus strictly on the horror (although this is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen). The horror of Shaun of the Dead comes from the bad decisions of its characters. They’re not bad decisions in the sense of poor writing — rather, the characters don’t know any better. We watch them make mistakes and we fear for them, just as a parent fears for a child about to carelessly fall. The parent watches, powerless, as their child flounders from their own foolishness.
It’s this horror that Edgar Wright perfectly encapsulates in Shaun of the Dead. That’s because, I think, all the characters in Shaun of the Dead are metaphorical children, and die because of it.
Every character in the film either acts childishly or has an immature quality. Firstly, Phil keeps Shaun at an emotional distance throughout the beginning, then, casting away his immature stoicism, finally confesses he loved Shaun as his own son. After that, he immediately dies. Next is Barbara, who accepts her childish over-attachment to her son and subsequently dies. Continuing this trend is David, who is literally ripped to shreds after letting go of his immature arrogance. Daphne immaturely runs out of the bar to a fate unknown (unless you watch the DVD extras). Our three remaining characters — Shaun, Liz, and a bitten Ed — are forced into the basement, until Ed, who has held Shaun back all film, finally lets him ascend into the street — and into adulthood — without him.
What Edgar Wright is saying here is this: when you become an adult, there’s nothing left for you to do but die or get married (as Shaun and Liz do).
I don’t think there’s a more terrifying note for this nostalgia-rooted triple feature to end on.