Shaun Of The Dead

In the London of Shaun Of The Dead, dead-eyed city-dwellers shamble through the streets. Thoughtlessly, they make their way from place to place, sometimes alone, sometimes in clusters. Their glazed eyes suggest no purpose beyond mindless repetition. Eventually, some of them even turn into zombies. Director/co-writer Edgar Wright and star/co-writer Simon Pegg squeeze a lot of jokes into their horror comedy, but none quite as sharp as the one that slowly unfolds in the film's opening segments. Unsettled when his girlfriend Kate Ashfield accuses him of predictability, Pegg scarcely notices any changes around him as he makes his way from his Playstation to his appliance-store job to the local pub while the city around him slowly becomes infected with the walking dead. Sure, the sirens make their rounds a bit more frequently than usual, and the TV news looks alarming, but what's the difference, really? Pegg awakes to a transformed world after a drunken night out with slovenly flatmate Nick Frost, but even then, it takes the arrival of a drooling, flesh-hungry trespasser to suggest that something might be amiss. Only a set of hungry teeth marks the split between the zombification of everyday life, with its free-floating dread and never-ending routine, and a full-on undead apocalypse.

By the time those teeth arrive, viewers will have caught on that Shaun Of The Dead doesn't mind putting in extra work for its laughs. Having Frost chuck Pegg's record collection at the zombie invaders might alone make for a pretty funny gag. Having Pegg stop Frost from throwing Purple Rain and offer the Batman soundtrack instead requires a bit more thought. Between the zombie attacks, the film works in no small amount of thoughtfulness. Looking as if he's just wandered out from under the fluorescent lights of The Office, British TV vet Pegg gives his hero a defeated look that slowly melts away as the crisis at last gives him a chance to become a man of action. More or less unfazed by hungry hordes, Frost makes the perfect Sancho Panza, finding the place where slacker resignation meets Zen enlightenment.

A hybrid of stylish suspense and dry comedy, Shaun Of The Dead tries to do right by all its contributing elements and mostly succeeds. No laughing matter, the zombies come straight out of a George Romero film, lumbering along with a fearsome intensity. Wright directs with an expert sense of rhythm but never lays his technical finesse on with Guy Ritchie thickness; he lets his characters take center stage even after he's shown he can frame them through a gaping hole in a zombie's stomach. Shaun Of The Dead loses a bit of its charm in a finale played straight, but it still deserves credit for choosing to transcend spoof and become its own film. Mixing horror and humor is no mean feat, but Shaun Of The Dead tightens throats in fear without making the laughs stick there in the process.