Edgar Wright has been one of the most unique director that I adore. I recently got the chance to rewatch the film that launched him into popularity, Shaun of the Dead. Here, I will be dissecting the types of visual effects that Edgar Wright uses to create contrast for comedy along addressing some of the flaws I find in the writing of the film. This isn’t going to be the longer analysis that I do but I thought it would be interesting since the way I look at this show is a really good, easy to explain example of what I look for in movies.
Visually, Shaun of the dead is one of the most unique and interesting movies out there just like any Edgar Wright film. And this comes mainly from the editing. By now, Edgar Wright’s ability to edit scenes seamlessly with the music and tone to create comedic scenes is more than well known. Throughout the film, we get great comedic moments by the different editing techniques that he uses. For example, he uses a whip pan to transition between cuts which give a really stylistic transition to different parts of the movie. One of my favorite scenes comes from the whip pan transitioning from Shaun in front of Liz’s home to what’s happening inside. By combining quick whip pans with huge contrast of what’s happening within the scenes, Edgar Wright can easily create comedic moments.
With this film being what launched Edgar Wright’s stylistic features into a wider audience, his signature quick succession of shots to quickly move through events that characters are going through (which gets copied to an absurd degree in student films) is prevalent in this film. These quick cuts are really great because Edgar Wright uses them to get through scenes that would be otherwise boring when fully done yet empty without them being there.
Unlike many of the quick cuts that you may see in the cinema, one of the unique parts about this editing technique in Shaun of the Dead is how visible each object in the frame is. For example, the transitions from flowers being dropped to picking up the phone become so smooth because of how he places these objects in the frame in continuous order. While these techniques do not add anything too much to the narrative, they add so much flare to the movie just because of how interesting they look.
It’s also very interesting to see how actors are stationed with the camera and how they enter the frame. One of my favorite moments from the movie came from when Shaun was receiving a call from Liz while one of his workers was complaining about him being doing non-work activities in the shop he works in. Here, we see Shaun argue that he had important business in his previous calls. However, this is contrasted immediately by an arm and a phone quickly entering the frame from the left without the audience expecting it. This type of unexpectedness which creates contrast goes a long way in creating humor for the audience.
Other than visually, a lot of the comedy comes from the dialogue and tension created by the pacing of the jokes. Similarly, a lot of this humor comes from the contrast that is created. When David yells about how Shuan’s plan would most likely have nothing more than sitting and eating peanuts in the dark, Edgar Wright sets up the tone of the movie to make it feel as though David would be wrong thanks to Shuan’s heroic actions in the scene before. This, however, is immediately shut down when we see everyone actually eating peanuts in the dark. Similarly, Edgar Wright, throughout the movie, holds off some emotional scenes to make it seem as though characters who are bitten would become healthy again. However, he follows such scenes up with brutally disgusting scenes of the characters getting completely eaten. Again, the heavy contrast creating the unexpectedness of the shots is what creates the comedy in this movie.
This all works hilariously well in the whole concept of this movie which, unlike any other zombie movie which focuses on the zombies, is more like a sitcom with zombies that annoyingly interrupts them. This idea is enforced in scenes like when Shaun is scrolling through the TV. But rather than showing some news that showcases the problem of the issue, we see bits and pieces of the catastrophe with other channels with soccer games or documentaries playing.
As you can probably tell by now, I really love the comedy in Shaun of the dead. But I did a few issues with the movie’s writing that I didn’t really have on my first watch. I understand that in the movie, Edgar Wright was trying to poke fun at some of the cliches of horror movies. But I feel as though this movie sometimes is unable to be that satire but rather merely a cliche zombie movie. Most of the scenes where the characters are fighting the zombies don’t really feel very exciting due to two reasons: the lack of impact and the lack of need to fight. The former just comes from the fact that a lot of the hits that the characters made didn’t feel very satisfying either because they weren’t edited too well or they never really showed the hitting properly. I was slightly confused throughout the film because the zombies didn’t seem to be that frightening because of how slow they are. We even see Shaun running into a herd of zombies and surviving no problem, so I had a hard time really believing that these zombies were that much of a treat to the characters.
But even with this, the first part of the movie didn’t have much of this problem. It kept to the idea of a sitcom-like comedy with zombies being an annoying interruption to the character’s relationship. However, as we get deeper into the movie, this becomes a little bit unclear. The whole scene with the zombies in the pub feels too clustered to be called anything near polished; characters were dying without much point to their deaths (though it’s arguable their presence wasn’t even needed in the first place); most importantly, the pacing at the end with the zombies and the sudden appearance of the rescue team feels too messy and unexplained to be called fleshed out.
I don’t know if it’s because I recently watched Yamada Naoko’s Arthouse masterpiece A Silent Voice, but this movie felt closer to a B movie than I imagined it being. While it isn’t as though B movies are necessarily anything bad, there are definitely features of B movies such as messy pacing or less polished cinematography that always gets me. Here, I can’t quite single out what exactly makes me feel as though this film is of low quality. It may be just that the film is a little bit outdated in terms of graphics, or it may be the fact that it gets overtly gruesome, or it may be the more anticlimactic ending that unfolds too quickly without much explanation.
As much as I didn’t feel too satisfied with the writing of the film and how it ended, that isn’t to say that the film was anything other than fun. Again, it had a lot of comedic moments that made me laugh throughout. And I would recommend this movie to anyone who even remotely enjoys comedy. Just make sure not to go into this expecting your normal scary and an exciting zombie movie.