Comedy is very vulnerable to becoming 'of its time', when done imperfectlyEwen Roberts / Wikimedia Commons (resized) /

What would you do in a zombie apocalypse? If you can’t beat them, join ’em, right? I recently found myself wondering how I’d act in this situation if push came to shove, spurred by my rewatching of Shaun of the Dead.

“It’s bizarre to see compact brick Nokias instead of smartphones with massive screens”

Lately, I’ve been consuming media from the early 2000s to explore how comedy has changed over time. Fundamentally, Shaun of the Dead is a story about friendship, love and the mundane struggles of everyday life. Shaun, a lovable slacker, finds himself caught in a zombie apocalypse while attempting to win back his ex-girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) and reconcile with his estranged stepfather (Bill Nighy). Alongside his hapless best friend Ed (Nick Frost), Shaun embarks on a hilariously inept journey to save his loved ones and survive the undead onslaught. The movie was released in 2004, a year after I was born, but does it hold up two decades later?

Perhaps the strangest aspect of watching it twenty years on is the total absence of technology that is so ubiquitous to us today. It’s bizarre to see compact brick Nokias instead of smartphones with massive screens. Indeed, the film is old enough to feel dated yet too young to be considered vintage, situating it in this weird grey area. There are hints of nostalgia, especially for those born around 2004, but the world Shaun inhabits is still recognisably ours.

“Obviously, there was no way the writers could have predicted Coronavirus”

None of this, however, is restricting or off-putting because the humour and dialogue carry the film so well. Comedy can be a tricky genre and is incredibly vulnerable to becoming “of its time”, when done imperfectly. Comedic films risk not aging well as social conventions around what is funny evolve. Several comedians have complained about “cancel culture” restricting their bandwidth for jokes. Most recently, American comic Jerry Seinfeld accused “the extreme left” of killing the genre after his latest “comedy”, Unfrosted, received poor reviews. Shaun of the Dead shows it’s possible to balance being funny and largely inoffensive. It’s hard to imagine other films released around the same time, like Superbad, being made today, given the number of slurs the main characters use. Shaun of the Dead, however, still holds up as much of the humour combines funny dialogue and physical comedy, such as when Shaun runs headfirst into a fence.


Mountain View

We’re living in a Wong Kar-wai world

I did, however, feel slightly uneasy during the film’s exposition, which establishes the zombie outbreak – likely due to the minor PTSD we accrued during the pandemic. Obviously, there was no way the writers could have predicted Coronavirus. But it felt odd watching a fictional world go into “lockdown” when we have memories of doing the exact same thing (albeit with less zombies). Perhaps it’s too soon to enjoy media about medical disasters and epidemics. However, I reckon the further we get from COVID, the less of a sore spot it will be.

Visually, Shaun of the Dead excels in capturing both the mundane and the macabre. From the drab confines of Shaun’s suburban life to chaotic streets overrun by zombies, the cinematography expertly juxtaposes the ordinary with the absurd. The practical effects are equally impressive, with gruesome zombie makeup and inventive kill sequences that pay homage to classic horror films while infusing them with a comedic twist.

If you’re not put off by a bit of blood and enjoy comedy and horror, I would strongly recommend Shaun of the Dead as there’s no doubt in my mind that it stands the test of time.