Movie Review: Fido
Okay, you like zombie movies? You like Shaun of the Dead? Go rent Fido. (If you like zombie movies and haven’t seen Shaun, you stop reading right now and go see it. We can’t be friends anymore until you do.)
The funny thing about me is that I like the idea of zombie movies, but rarely their execution. Typically they seem to forget that they’re supposed to be zombie movies. Dawn of the Dead? Both the 70s version and the recent version use the zombies as a bookending thing — the zombies lead them into the mall, then are the reason that they must leave. But they aren’t really zombie movies. They’re movies about people holed up in a mall, and oh yeah there’s zombies outside.
28 Days Later? I have a friend, who is an executive at a big name studio, who has her own metaphor, inspired by 28 Days Later, for when a film utterly derails itself in the third act: “Going to the mansion.” I discovered this when I pitched a movie to her once. Admittedly the third act was a problem and that particular story has been fixed (I like talking to her because she gives really good notes). She was with me for the first two-thirds of the movie and then when I got to the third act she hissed through her teeth like she’d been stung and said, “Okay, do you REALLY want to go to the mansion?” I just love that metaphor.
(I know 28 Days Later likes to say it’s not technically a zombie movie, but we all know it is. I have not yet seen the sequel.)
Land of the Dead? Good God, if Romero wasn’t credited as the man who created the “zombie genre” I’d say he has no business in it. Frankly, even given that he is, I’m still tempted to say so based on Land of the Dead. It was a post-apocalyptic movie, but not really a post-ZOMBIE-apocalypse movie. The survivors are living in fenced-off cities, the wealthier survivors live in a hoity-toity skyscraper, and the story is really a struggle between the classes. And oh yeah there’s zombies outside. Oh, and one of them is intelligent and has compassion for his “people” for some reason.
Zombie Honeymoon was okay but a lot darker than I expected. Also didn’t take the concept as deep as they could have. We can still be friends if you haven’t seen it.
The reason I love Shaun of the Dead so much is that it is a perfect zombie movie. It’s violent and scary and the zombies are a constant and immutable threat. But the other thing that’s great about it is that the characters aren’t behaving like you’re supposed to behave in a zombie movie. It’s like the movie chose to follow the “wrong” characters, and it’s just brilliantly funny. Horror-comedy is hard to do well, and the Shaun team does it wonderfully. (Their “wrong characters in the right movie” concept also worked beautifully in Hot Fuzz.)
Fido is, in many ways, a spiritual successor to Shaun of the Dead. Remember how the zombies had been leashed and “tamed” at the end of Shaun? Fido starts with that premise, although with a slightly more sci-fi bent, in that they have special collars that, when activated, make them tame and not-face-eating. When deactivated, well, shoot for the head. It’s also set in a fictional 1950s where World War II, from what I can tell, didn’t happen. Instead what we got was the Zombie War, which has left small pockets of suburban humanity trying to live a normal 1950s life inside giant fences, on the other side of which is the Wild Zone, where zombies roam uncontained and uncontrolled.
I won’t give you the whole of the story because you really should see it, but suffice it to say that the logline I’ve heard, “A boy and his zombie”, is perfectly accurate. There’s some great actors in here — Carrie-Anne Moss and Dylan Baker as the parents, with Billy Connelly as the eponymous zombie — and the filmmaking is impressive. If you’re a filmmaker, I suggest checking out how the shooting and lighting style evolves from a brightly-lit, three-camera backlot look to a more modern/realistic style and look over the course of the story.
But overall, the best part, for me, was that it never forgot that it was a zombie movie. Little touches and glimpses of life made it clear that the filmmakers had considered all aspects of a post-Zombie War society, and it was part of the fabric of the film’s culture, not just a McGuffin. That’s how you make a zombie movie, and I’m not sure what the ratio of sad/wonderful is in the fact that the only movies that seem to be able to get it right are the comedies.
But the good comedies are comedies because they take the rules very seriously, just the characters don’t. The zombies are still killing people horribly, but the other characters seem unaware of the horror. The little boy in this does a great job of acting like he’s in a Lassie movie instead of a zombie movie, reacting to his zombie’s murder of a neighbor with the “aw, shucks boy” guilt of a kid in some other movie finding that the dog tracked mud all over the brand new carpet just hours before Dad’s new boss was coming over for dinner! Hijinks!
I’d really love to see a good, serious zombie movie, but I almost have to wonder if they need to be comedic to work. Certainly Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide (apparently in development as a film by Brooks himself) is extremely funny, but never in a punchline-y way. No, it’s funny precisely because it’s NOT funny, because it takes the notion of a zombie outbreak as a given and with utter seriousness describes how to get through it. The follow-up, World War Z, is less funny, and I’m personally hoping that it stalls in development hell (it’s currently optioned by Brad Pitt’s “Plan B Productions”) long enough for me to have a shot at it, because I would really like to make that into a film.
But until that day comes, if you’re a zombie lover who hasn’t seen Fido, you owe it to yourself to do so.