Fido

B

Fido

We're in the midst of an unprecedented cinematic zombie renaissance. With movies like Shaun Of The Dead, 28 Days Later, and Land Of The Dead hitting multiplexes, the undead are threatening vampires as horror's all-purpose metaphor for everything from consumerism to slackerdom to political disenfranchisement. Further proof of the zombie subgenre's malleability can be found in the cult-friendly new Canadian horror-comedy Fido, which uses zombies as a springboard for a candy-colored satire of '50s suburban conformity in general, and Lassie in particular. It's the timeless tale of a boy, his loyal pet zombie, and a cruel world intent on keeping them apart.

The playfully ghoulish shadow of Tim Burton hangs heavy over this morbidly whimsical black comedy, set in a '50s where zombies have been domesticated into performing jobs the non-dead find distasteful. Zombies have also become status symbols, and feisty housewife Carrie-Anne Moss isn't about to become the only woman on her block without one. So she picks up melancholy zombie servant Billy Connolly, who quickly becomes a beloved member of the household and a pal to her neurotic son (K'Sun Ray), much to the chagrin of curmudgeonly dad Dylan Baker.

It's a measure of the film's curdled take on humanity that Connolly's murderous zombie emerges as one of Fido's most sympathetic characters. In the title role, Connolly conveys a certain sad yearning beneath his zombie makeup, while Moss delivers a slyly subversive turn as a desperate housewife happy to be the object of someone's romantic ardor, even if that someone happens to be a grotesque sentient corpse. Tim Blake Nelson, meanwhile, steals scenes as a gleefully debauched libertine whose sexy zombie concubine does a whole lot more than help with light housekeeping. A premise this zany calls for a deadpan approach, but director/co-writer Andrew Currie piles on the kitschy period detail and winking irony, especially in the film's intrusive score. Yet where Fido's overwrought sense of style sometimes works against it, the satire proves surprisingly resonant. Here, miserable manly men like Baker suppress their emotions until they become veritable zombies, while affable zombies like Connolly open their hearts until a little humanity can't help but seep in.

Key features: A sober-minded commentary from Currie, Moss, and producer Mary Anne Waterhouse; a nifty animated "storybook"; deleted scenes.