Dir: Edgar Wright. UK. 2004. 100mins tbc
After the critical debacle that was last month's Sex Lives Of The Potato Men comes Shaun Of The Dead, a film which proves that the move from small to big screen comedy does not always end in artistic failure. This romantic zombie comedy - or 'romzomcom' as it calls itself - is from the writing/directing partnership behind the quirky Channel 4 sitcom Spaced. But thanks to a combination of sharp comic writing and fortunate casting, the appeal of this lively genre pastiche should extend beyond fans of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's cult series, in the UK at least.
Spaced, which ran for two series, was the kind of surreal, offbeat, occasionally baffling comedy that is described as 'not laugh out-loud funny'. Comic book and cinematic references were widely used: the inspiration for Shaun came from an episode of Spaced in which Pegg becomes immersed in the videogame Resident Evil 2.
Although true to the geek roots of the TV series, Shaun is likely to enjoy a broader appeal in the UK, boosted by a more accessible humour, positive word of mouth and the presence of cast members from the UK's two other most credible television comedy series, Dylan Moran from Black Books and Lucy Davis from The Office.
The film's weighting toward comedy over horror will ensure that, in addition to the male teenagers who are traditionally the most receptive to zombie pictures, the audience should include a healthy proportion of 20- and 30-somethings.
However despite the film-makers' obvious affection for the work of Romero and his ilk, the predominantly comic tone of the film may irk horror purists, a factor that may hamper the film's chances of achieving breakout success in the US on a par with Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.
The Office's Golden Globe success notwithstanding, the British television comedy links will have limited sway with US audiences and the film's best route of entry into the US is through a horror-lite audience. Still it's worth mentioning that Spaced has an enthusiastic following on some US websites, while aintitcool's Harry Knowles has been giving positive word about the film's trailer.
Prospects are better in Australia, where the film's suburban setting and slacker humour should find a receptive audience. And Shaun is likely to have a long and healthy life in ancillary markets, particularly on DVD.
Pegg plays the eponymous Shaun, a 29-year-old underachiever whose loyalty to his local pub, The Winchester, and enduring friendship with small-time drug dealer Ed (Frost) is putting his relationship with Liz (Ashfield) under strain.
Their break-up coincides with a zombie invasion, something that Shaun doesn't actually notice until much of North London is full of lumbering, moaning undead. Galvanised into action, Shaun and Ed rescue Liz, her two flatmates and Shaun's mother (Penelope Wilton) and stepfather (Bill Nighy) and retreat to the safest place they can think of - The Winchester pub.
Though mainly comic in tone, Pegg and Wright bring a convincing emotional depth to the screenplay, although genuinely tense moments are rather more scarce. The comedy runs the gamut from obvious gags to more sophisticated running jokes. The exceptionally funny first half generates enough audience goodwill to keep the laughs coming through the slower, darker second half, in which the cast hide out in a pub besieged by zombies.
Crisp, punchy editing also helps to keep the energy level up, even while the characters are static. Despite the emphasis on humour, Shaun shows its zombie movie credentials with some impressively gory special effects makeup - zombie and prosthetics make-up expert Stuart Conran worked on Peter Jackson's Braindead - and a willingness to despatch cast members in an exceptionally gruesome fashion.
Prod cos: Big Talk, WT2.
UK dist: UIP
Int'l dist: Universal/UIP
Exec prods: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Natascha Wharton, James Wilson, Alison Owen
Prods: Nira Park
Scr: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Cine: David Dunlap
Ed: Chris Dickins
Hair/make-up: Jane Walker
Zombie/prosthetics make-up: Stuart Conran
Main cast: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran