With the large variety of interests that flourish within the society, it is no shock that genres exist, especially in film, as the definition of entertainment differs from person to person. A genre is a category of films that are characterised by similarities in the narrative elements and conventions found within the films. Genres are extremely useful to both film producers and audiences as it helps them narrow down the target audience and search for films that are in their range of interests.
No one wants to watch a political drama overrun with teenagers or go into a cinema with the intentions of watching a romantic comedy, only to receive blood and gore instead. However, because of the originality and innovativeness found in the film industry, films tend to belong to more than one genre, spawning hybrids such as ‘romantic comedy’ or ‘science fantasy’. One particular film that represents multiple genres flawlessly is Shaun of the Dead, which is directed by Edgar Wright and stars actors like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
The film is about a man named Shaun who has to juggle personal, relationship and family issues – all the while coping with an apocalyptic zombie uprising. Shaun of the Dead interweaves the conventions of three distinct genres – horror, comedy and romance – through its use of narrative, character and SWAT codes. The fact that Shaun of the Dead is a hybrid film is quite obvious, seen through the multiple genre conventions that are found in the movie. Under horror, the film uses one of the many monsters of horror: zombies.
Because of the level of violence these zombie exert, the film contains lots of blood and gore, which can generally either scare or disgust some people. For comedy, the producers followed the act of repetition and made repeating jokes. In some ways, they serve as a foreshadowing for an event that would use the same joke again, but in a different context. As for romance, the major convention of the romance genre is that there is a love triangle and a man’s quest to fight for her love and win her back.
The variety of conventions in the film elicits a wider range of emotions as the three genres that the film conforms to are very different and evoke different reactions. The main purpose of a horror film is to instill fear and cause suspense, drawing gasps and screams of shock from the audience, whereas comedy films aim to make the audience laugh. Romance, on the other hand, intends to make the audience feel strong emotions in response to love, be it happiness or sadness.
It seems unlikely that such contrasting genres could be combined into one good film, but Shaun of the Dead has succeeded through its adherence to the conventions and its ability to piece them together. Camera conventions are the camera shots and angles that are used frequently in a particular genre. For example, close ups are often used in dramas to focus on the emotion in the character’s face. At the climax of the movie, there is an abundance of genre camera conventions that can be found in the pub scenes.
When the characters begin to fight the one zombie in the pub, the camera moves quite fast to convey the characters’ confusion and a frantic feeling. The fast pace makes the scene more action packed, letting the audience feel the hecticness of the scene. When Shaun gets the gun, it moves to a close up of him and the pace becomes slower, introducing the gun and letting the audience focus on it. This action suggests that the gun might be important later on. As Shaun starts shooting the zombies, not only does cuts start getting faster, but the camera is place on the butt of the gun, giving the audience a peek at the point of view behind the gun.
This gives the audience a sensation of playing a shooting game, which is a reference to the many zombie killing video games that had minor details of it incorporated into the film. When Shaun’s mum dies, the camera took close ups of the character’s faces, emphasising the emotion in the scene. It was fairly slow paced and the camera zooms out as she dies, letting the audience see how the characters’ come together in the face of her death, evoking sympathy from the audience. However, the mood of the scene pivots from sad to suspense as his mum rises gain as a zombie in between Shaun and Liz, her figure slowly pulling focus. When Shaun is faced with the decision to shoot his mum, the camera slowly zooms in on his face so his grief is accentuated, showing how horrible he feels, having to kill his own mother. When he finally pulls the trigger, the camera shifts to Barbara’s point of view in an over the shoulder shot so that the back of her head could be seen being blown up. This violent and gory display only serves to further strengthen the horror element found in Shaun of the Dead.
Lighting is one of the many elements that combine to create a perfect setting to reflect not only the story, but also the mood in a scene and the main character’s journey. How the character’s face and body is lit can also help define the character’s state of mind, an emotional state to give that character more depth and more of just a physical look to them that represents what they’re going through. In the pub scene, the light is quite muted and dim to emphasise the fear the characters are feeling, as well as the sense of mystery of the scene which gives off a ‘what’s going to happen? feel. This is often because it’s hard to see into the darkness; therefore it is more likely for something to launch a surprise attack from the shadows. The light sources are directly from the set (the streetlights from the windows and the light on top of the pool table), thus giving the scene a more realistic look to it. The silhouettes of the zombie hands against the light coming through the windows had a spooky and mysterious effect because neither the characters nor the audience can see the zombies, but they know they’re there.
This is a well-known image from other zombie movies (including Dawn of the Dead), so it is easy to understand the significance of it while at the same time; it relates Shaun of the Dead to other zombie movies. Another scene that is a good example of the use of lighting in Shaun of the Dead is when David switches the lights rapidly in a futile attempt to cut off the power. This heightens the feeling of panic as David’s frantic attempts does not only fail, but it catches the attention of the zombie horde outside the pub, alerting them of the existence of live human flesh nside and sending them into a frenzy.
The presence of glaring light smack dab in the faces of the zombies gives the audience a good look at the ragged, bloody beings, which intensifies the zombie’s gruesome image. Their arms are thrown up in the air, grasping for the light with hunger evident on their faces, warning the audience that the horde is now even more determined to infiltrate the pub. However, the motion of the horde’s waving arms can also elicit a humorous response from the audience as they look as if they’re dancing at a concert, with the flashing lights acting as club-esque disco lights.
Sound is a major aspect of films because it adds emotion and rhythm to the film. It provides a tone or an emotional attitude towards the story and the characters depicted. Background music often foreshadows a change in mood; for example, music that builds up in pace and volume may be used to indicate and approaching disaster. The sounds used in films are compromised of conventions and innovations. It is common to expect an acceleration of music during a car chase and creaky doors in horror films.
Despite this, most sound effects are very subtle and are often only picked up by the subconscious mind, therefore creating a scene that properly portrays what is going on in that setting, right down to the last detail. In the beginning of the scene, the music is slowly building up in pace and volume as zombies surround the pub. This is done to increase the suspense, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats as they await the incoming complication. The music is of the spooky sort, intensifying the fearful mood of the characters.
All this while, the sound of the zombies’ knocks on the windows and their groans are heard, indicating that they are still a present threat to the characters, despite their fight with another zombie indoors. Diegetic sounds are any sounds that originated from a source within the film’s world. Shaun of the Dead uses diegetic sounds in one of the film’s major comedy scenes: when the jukebox starts playing ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen right before they fight a zombie. This garners laughter from the audience, as it is such an unconventional soundtrack to a fight scene.
The song reflects the action playing out in the scene as they only start attacking when the song’s beat picks up. The song and band is universally popular, so even the American audience is familiar to it, more so the British audience as Queen is a British band. Its popularity ensures that the audiences understand jokes made about the song, particularly the pun used when Shaun says, “David, kill the Queen! ” Because the source of the song is present in the film’s universe (via the jukebox), it is diegetic; therefore even the characters can hear it. It influences the characters, as they start hitting the zombie in time with the music.
There’s even a part where Barbara and Diana are bobbing their heads to the music as they watch the fight progress. This song is a suitable for this particular scene because not only does it instill humour into it, but also the lyrics reflect the happenings of the scene. The words, “I’m travelling at the speed of light,” are sung as David runs towards the fuses, and, “Don’t stop me now / I’m having such a good time / I’m having a ball,” is heard as the zombies’ attention is caught by the flickering lights, which is ironic as the characters are having anything but a good time while combating the zombies.
Characters are important in film because they are the major subject of the film. Without them, the films will not reflect reality and it would be harder for the audience to relate to the themes or problems in the film. Shaun is the protagonist who has the typical loser evolves into hero story, the film being his journey of growing up. He also tries to woo Liz back into his arms whilst battling zombies and her best friend, David, who’s in love with her. Ed is the joker who allows the film to be comical. Lazy, selfish and crass, his foul language and inappropriate language is what makes him so humorous.
He is Shaun’s best friend and sidekick, often assisting him in zombie fights. He’s the one who comforted and cheered Shaun up after his break up. In the end, he commits an act of selflessness – sacrificing himself to save his friends. David is the nerdy best friend of Liz’s who is in love with her, creating tension between Shaun and Liz. He’s a pacifist; therefore he excluded himself from all fights with the zombies. He was a very dislikeable character due to his lack of sensitivity and his interference in Liz’s relationship with Shaun.
He is eaten by zombies before he could finish his apology to Shaun. Liz is the heroine of the film and she’s Shaun’s romantic interest. She’s the damsel in distress in his eyes, but she refuses to be patronised by him. She’s the voice of reason when fights between Shaun and David erupt. Diane is Liz’s best friend and she’s a stereotypical dumb blonde who doesn’t have much of a role in the film. She is less capable than Liz physically, so she doesn’t participate in the fights. She is David’s girlfriend and a part of the Liz/David/Diane love triangle.
Barbara is Shaun’s mum and she is portrayed as the fragile, oblivious old lady. She needs to be protected, by despite Shaun’s attempts, she still gets bitten and dies. Based on his actions throughout the film, it is clear that Shaun is the hero of Shaun of the Dead, if it wasn’t already obvious from the title itself. He seems like a stereotypical white working class male in the beginning of the film, but as the zombies start attacking him and his loved ones, he starts getting more assertive and takes control. He’s a quick thinker and he tells the others what to do.
This can be seen in the jukebox scene, where he assigns each person a task when a zombie is found indoors. When he’s fighting the zombie with Liz and Ed, he stands in the middle of the two and slightly in front of them, a common pose for a leader. When fighting the zombies, he is in control of the gun; ergo he is the one with the power. Not to mention, he seems like the most battered one of the group with blood covering both his face and clothing. This indicates that he participates in more fights than the others do. He has his tie tied around his forehead, a la Rambo or Karate Kid, covering his battle wounds.
Like a true hero, he defends the people under his care, even if he doesn’t have much like for them (David and Diana). In addition to that, the camera follows him around the most and uses angles to make him look powerful. Costumes can tell you a lot about particular characters, especially the type of personality they are trying to convey. Because Shaun is portrayed as the typical white-collar worker, so he wears the neat office clothes, which consists of a white shirt and black pants. The colour white symbolizes the protagonist and it emphasises the blood that gets on his shirt later on in the story.
In the beginning, he wore a nametag, but when he resolves to go save his mother and ex-girlfriend, he throws the nametag away in a metaphorical action of throwing his old life away. Ed, on the other hand, is a complete one-eighty from Shaun. He’s shabby and sloppy, wearing raggy clothes that seem unwashed and soiled. While the others adorn jackets, he forgoes the garment, indicating that he doesn’t care much about his health. The last male character, David, is portrayed as a glasses-wearing nerd who wears rugby shirts. Liz, the main female character, is portrayed as a casual, down to earth kind of girl with girl-next-door looks.
She only wears a white polo, jeans and a blue jacket, suggesting that she dresses for comfort and not so much for the looks. Diane however, wears stylish clothes, which implies she cares a lot about her appearance. This may be because she is an actress. Barbara looks like a typical mother, wearing comfortable clothes for a middle-aged woman. Setting is the time, place and circumstance on which the film is built on. It’s an essential part of films because it gives the audience a better sense of the story. It allows them to visualise what is going on and connect with the characters better.
The setting can have a huge impact on the development of the story, as daily life in that particular era might’ve been a big influence on the characters. The circumstances in which the characters face can also explain a lot about the character’s actions. For example, a girl shooting a man in self-defense would make sense if the man were threatening to harm her. When the characters take refuge in the pub, it is dimly lit and empty, a big contrast to the livelihood of a normal pub. The setting of a big, isolated house (or pub, in this case) is a conventional icon of the zombie genre.
It cements the feeling of helplessness because despite the protection the pub provided, they have nothing else to do but to sit and stew on their fears as they wait for help. Being trapped in malls or pubs is a common theme in horror films. It does have a few hints to humour in it though, as one of the reasons they came to the pub in the first place was for food, and all they ate was peanuts instead. The Wincester is also relevant to the romantic plot as the pub was the source of the conflict in their relationship, bringing back bad memories and further motivating Shaun to prove himself worthy of Liz once more.
There are many elements of the mise-en-scene that have basic symbolism behind them that is registered by the subconscious mind. The pool table, jukebox and shelves of bottles indicate that the setting is just a typical pub. However, the normal things found in said pub, such as cue sticks and darts, are later used as unconventional weapons against zombies. The gun is a ‘Chekov’s gun’ because it was dismissed as being fake earlier on the film, but at the climax, it becomes the characters’ main weapon against the zombies.
All the props in the scene are easily recognisable as average bar contents and the way the characters used their setting was very resourceful and contributed to their survival against the zombies. Typical horror films, including Shaun of the Dead, follow the following narrative structure: introduction, development, conflict, climax and resolution. In Shaun of the Dead, the introduction consists of Shaun and Liz discussing their many relationship issues. He promises to change, but when he doesn’t Liz breaks up with him.
From there, the development begins with the appearance of zombies, but they’re always in the background and Shaun’s too oblivious to notice. He deals with the break up in this stage. Then, the conflict starts when Shaun has his first encounter with a zombie in his backyard. He decided to go save his mother and ex-girlfriend, proposing to go to the Wincester, where it’s supposedly ‘safe’. On the way, his stepfather dies. They find out that there are more zombies around the pub than they expected. It reaches the climax when they walk through the zombies to get to the bar.
They almost reach the building, when they catch the zombie’s attention – so Shaun lures them away. He comes back a few hours later and there’s an attack at the pub. Everyone except the couple dies and then the military came to exterminate the zombies. It all comes to a resolution six months later when the zombie epidemic has passed. Shaun gets his happy ending with Liz and keeps Ed as his best friend, despite the fact that he’s a zombie. Intertextuality is an important element in films, especially comedy films. This is because they usually reference to more popular films to make inside jokes.
Shaun of the Dead is a spoof of the popular ‘Living Dead’ films, which is why there are many references to those films, with Dawn of the Dead in particular being referenced. The references are more easily understood because it is familiar, and in some ways, more humorous. For example, the line, “We’re coming to get you, Barbara! ” is a reference to the first zombie apocalypse movie, Night of the Living Dead. Over time, zombie films have gotten into the habit of portraying the undead with pale, mutated faces and ripped clothing all covered in blood.
Without this reference (or stereotype), the exact definition of zombie would be hard to pinpoint and would be quite vague. If the creature were portrayed as a clean, silver robot, people would not recognise it as a zombie and get confused as to where the film is trying to lead them. The zombies in Shaun of the Dead are a violent disruption to the everyday world, one of the signs that this is a horror film. The phrase, “You’ve got red on you,” is continuously used in the film to Shaun and it reinforces the blood and gore of the genre.
The setting conforms to the horror convention, as the pub is big, isolated, dimly lit and has the essentials for survival. However, this also mocks the zombie genre and reinforces the comedy aspects, as the pub is the last place Liz wants to go and it’s the preferred location of Ed. The use of music too is humorous as it was an unconventional choice for normal zombie fight scenes. To make this funny gore mix even better, a dash of romance is added in the form of break ups, commitment issues and a love triangle. At the end, the main couple, Shaun and Liz, survive and have their happily ever after.
Shaun of the Dead meets the audiences’ expectations of the genres because not only does it incorporate the appropriate amount of each genre throughout the movie, but it also uses the conventions properly; thus producing a film that is true to the zombie genre while adding in elements of comedy and romance, making an almost perfect hybrid film. When I first heard about Shaun of the Dead, I was quite eager to watch it, as I wanted to see what the fuss was all about and take a peek at this unique film, dubbed zom-rom-com (zombie romantic comedy). What I saw blew my expectations right out of the water.
Personally, I found the film fascinating, especially the satirical element to the zombies, comparing society to the mindless living dead. I also loved the cinematography; particularly how they made brushing your teeth look exciting and scary. The music was another favorite, particular the scene where they so cleverly used Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. There were moments where I had to stifle my giggles because of the humorous scenes. The only part that disturbed me was David’s gruesome death – and I didn’t even find him all that annoying! Truly, Shaun of the Dead is a spectacular film and that has shown me the brilliance of zom-rom-coms.