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SYFY WIRE Shaun of the Dead

'Shaun of the Dead' is the laid-back end of the world we need - stream it now on Peacock

Edgar Wright's zombie comedy masterpiece is now streaming on Peacock.

By Matthew Jackson
Shaun of the Dead Still

We've had a lot of cause to reflect on apocalyptic stories over the last three years, and we've made plenty more to go with what was already there in the pop culture lexicon. Examining all the different ways the world might end, from a superflu plague to a highly evolved strain of mushrooms, provides a certain comfort to some viewers and readers, allows us to examine our own feelings about the fragility of humanity at a relatively safe distance, while hopefully being entertained along the way. 

But sometimes, that's just not what you want.

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Sure, you want the danger of the end of the world, and the various thorny scenarios that come from fighting to stay alive at all costs, but you'd like it if the levity and sense of hope managed to eclipse the grimness. While there aren't necessarily as many stories that work from this perspective as stories that delve deep into the darkness, they are out there if you know where to look, and thankfully one of the very best ones is streaming on Peacock right now. That's right, it's time to talk about Shaun of the Dead.

Directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and his Spaced partner Simon Pegg, Shaun is most obviously a love letter to and comedic riff on all the zombie films the duo grew up loving, and if you only want to focus on that aspect of the story, you're in for a blast. Wright and Pegg know exactly how to build their zombie world so it strikes just the right balance of menacing and silly, and they know how to deliver the horror and tragedy goods when it counts. But Shaun of the Dead is about much more than zombie laughs, and in some ways, nearly 20 years after its release, it's gained even more relevance and impact than it had when it first opened.

The first in what was later dubbed the "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy" (named for the ice cream snacks that appear in each film), Shaun uses the zombie movie paradigm to tell the story of the title character (played by Pegg) coming to terms with his own immaturity, and figuring out what he really wants in life when sudden and inescapable peril looms and reminds him of what's truly important. It's a zombie comedy, yes, but it's also a movie about a man who's realizing that he's begun to outgrow his old habits, that life is precious, and that the woman he's been stringing along is actually the person he wants to protect and survive with more than any other. It's not hard to see the metaphors there, but that doesn't stop them from being extremely potent, even all these years later.

But re-examining Shaun of the Dead now, there's another layer of emotional satisfaction in the film that just keeps getting clearer in our present age, and that's the laid-back, pragmatic way the film approaches an apocalyptic event. Every apocalyptic film, no matter what mechanism it uses to shift the status quo of the world, has its own ideas about how humanity would react to the crisis, what the fallout might be, and how we'd manage to survive the initial onslaught. In Shaun of the Dead, Wright and Pegg strip their particular approach down to the basics, keeping Shaun and his friends and family firmly ensconced in their own London neighborhood while they try to figure out their next steps. If you lived in a London neighborhood around which your whole life revolved, what would you do if something crazy happened? You'd probably go down to the pub to see what's what, and that's exactly what Shaun plans to do, giving us a film that's rooted in characters whose lives are quite localized, stripped down by the apocalypse to the people they care about most and the comforts they understand best. 

And then there are all the little details: Shaun and his roommate Ed (Nick Frost) arguing over which vinyl records can be used to kill zombies and which ones should be kept, Shaun climbing a child's play slide to see if the coast is clear, rickety fences collapsing when people try to hop over them, and of course, Shaun walking in a hungover daze to the shop, oblivious to the chaos around him. All of these things coalesce into an apocalyptic story that never feels cramped or stifled by its small scale, but instead revels in the almost casual intimacy of its own little corner of the end of the world. Thanks to that intimacy, and the laughter that comes through the characters even when things get dark, we can watch Shaun of the Dead now and feel a little better about the hypothetical end of the world. We live in scary times, but if things do go sidewise, we might at least be able to make it to our own personal Winchester.

Shaun of the Dead is now streaming on Peacock.