08 October 2009

Shaun of the Dead, Cont.

If you haven't read part one yet, then, you know, read part one first.

After Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead makes the best use of the zombie-to-death horror relationship, and the meaty symbolism the zombie state represents. If you haven't read Simon Pegg's essay on Why the undead should never be allowed to run yet, then, you know, read that before you read this. It'll begin to demonstrate how much the writers of Shaun really cared about what they were writing, really thought about the subject and material, and it'll settle all debate as to whether the humor was biting or affectionate, if that question lingers in your mind (if it does, you should watch Shaun before reading, you know, anything, period.).

If you count the high points in Shaun, from an emotional perspective, three of them deal with the sadness of death and fragility of life. There are five high points total. The three deathcentric ones would be Philip's essentially unearned death scene, the first burst of brilliance from the movie, Barbara's inevitable demise and the consequent conflict, and Ed's heroic and redeeming final stand. The two remaining points are the Shaun/Liz reunion, and the Shaun/Liz David/Dianne love dynamics. The latter enjoys a partial appearance in the film's death theme, but it's earned so hard and fast, and by such different means, that it doesn't really count in my book. The book that I keep for my personal records. For me the David/Dianne death scene falls into the category of eradication of dispensable characters.

The first half of Shaun establishes the absurdity of the zombie scenario, and the second half highlights the bitter tragedy of absurdity. If it strives for too much and extends itself too far, the more the film should be appreciated. An attempt to unravel the fears and repressions of a person is the basis of the most exciting and engaging genre films, and if Shaun doesn't explore new territory, it does stick faithfully and effectively to its material. It gives itself entirely to its material, which is what a film of its nature must do.

There is an element of double-layered symbolism to Shaun because of its fetishistic treatment of popular culture. In the second sequence of the film, right after the hilarious bar scene, the inhabitants of London are filmed as zombielike creatures, and it's unclear if at that point they're even zombies or not. Wright and Pegg riff on one of Romero's other contributions to the zombie symbolism, the zombification that is a result of commercialism and materialism. This statement is made clearer by the fate of Ed and the lack of substantial difference between who he was alive and what he's like as a zombie. Furthermore, Shaun could and I think should be read as a wishful rumination of the zombie universe. Although the characters in the film cannot choose their deaths, Wright and Pegg chose for each of them to die a zombie death. Beyond a horror staple, the message, in the context of the film, is that zombie death is a great death to have. I think they could have killed all the characters and still it would have been a happy ending, because of the positivity and enthusiasm that Wright and Pegg portray the gruesomeness within. It's a rather tame horror film, and if it wasn't for the investment of characters Wright and Pegg corner you into this would be even easier to see.

What about the skill of execution? Beyond differing thoughts on the subject material, Wright is clearly a gifted director, and one of the few working today who can craft a movie that fires on all engines. It's a rare breed of film that finds success in the horror/comedy field, and it's even rarer for it to have identifiable characters. Wright's films also have the energy and tactility that so many modern films endeavor toward, and it's achieved effortlessly. His films are enjoyable and easy to watch. They don't make too many mistakes, and they sometimes land on brilliant moments (as discussed).

Wright is also gifted at giving his films over to his audience. His fans become fanatics, true believers. He's the Paul Thomas Anderson of genre films. People decode Wright's films, they study them, they search out their influences, they hunt down Wright's interviews, Wright's early films, Wright's breakfast menu, etc. Wright is probably the furthest you can get from the self-indulgent and self-satisfying type of filmmaker. He's one of the few filmmakers who has retained his original beliefs despite a typically souring successful career. His blog is like a 16 year old's blog. It's like the blog of someone who yesterday discovered films. His movies are like that too. His movies have the pulse of movies, they're real movies, the kind you look forward to seeing.

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