We’re taking a look at what has made each of Edgar Wright’s films great in lead up to the release of Baby Driver.
Who hasn’t woken up and thought the world was coming to an end? In Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead – the film that brought the English director onto everyone’s collective radar – one average Joe’s day quite literally goes to hell. Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a drone in a retail job who’s just been dumped by his girlfriend the day before zombies take over England. This sounds like a bad lunchtime poll question, but the story allows Wright to bring his humorous sensibility to audiences in a way that’s relatable, while infusing some new life (pun intended) into the zombie genre. Shaun is a zombie in his own right who can barely muster up enthusiasm to train young clerks let alone find a different place than the pub to take his girlfriend to on their anniversary. The arrival of an unknown zombie horde finally allows Shaun to become the hero, and simultaneously laugh at his ineptitude.
The film is neatly sliced in pre-zombies and post-zombies. Shaun goes about his day job while trying to book a table for his anniversary and prep for an awkward gathering at his mum’s. After the zombies arrival those issues are only exacerbated – that’s “to make things worse,” in case you didn’t know. He’s forced to save his mum and disliked stepfather (played rigidly, in a good way, by Bill Nighy), and pick up girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) and her friends. Without belaboring exposition the group acts as a community unto themselves. The audience always knows about the relationships established and though they may intensify and ebb, they never diminish. Even a character Shaun doesn’t like, Liz’s best friend David (Dylan Moran) can still conjure sympathy….by being ripped apart by the undead.
What sets Shaun of the Dead apart, and created a legion of Wright followers, is the film’s self-awareness. Unlike previous zombie movies, where the “zed” word is never mentioned, Shaun and his friend Ed (Nick Frost) know what they’re dealing with. Sure, they don’t quite know how to kill them – settling on playing Frisbee with records before bashing brains with a cricket bat – but it’s evident they’ve grown up on a steady diet of George Romero. These guys would never be caught dead (sorry, the puns are too easy) Googling “What is a zombie?”
Pegg and Frost were Wright alumnus, having worked with the director most prominently on the television show Spaced. (Spaced fans will also recognize Yvonne as Spaced co-star Jessica Hynes.) Despite the massive zombie hordes Wright keeps things small, producing a true sense of camaraderie and a lived-in feel to these characters. You not only feel as if you know them, but believe that they know each other and have a history that exceeds the perimeter of the screen. When characters die, you feel sorry because they’re friends to you. And, as the film shows us at the end, you accept your friends, flaws and all.