Monday, May 9, 2011
I’ve mentioned before how, in the wake of Shaun of the Dead, the ‘ZomCom’ seems to have become a subgenre in its own right. On my last visit to the DVD rental store, I found around half-a-dozen on the shelves, all with ‘funnier than Shaun of the Dead’ emblazoned on their covers. In the case of Fido, the description was ‘Shaun of the Dead meets Pleasantville’, which didn’t inspire confidence. Comparisons are odious, particularly in hindsight when the pitch fails to live up to the reality, and I have to say that – having watched recently some particularly bad ‘funnier than Shaun’ ZomComs – I was tempted to give Fido an extremely wide berth.
Well, thank God for cheap Thursday rentals. Because Fido is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
I’ll say it again.
This is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, bar none.
I’d be quite happy to leave it at that, and allow the reader to discover the delights of Fido all by themselves. But on my HorrorScope salary (all the brains I can eat), I’m expected to provide a little more content, so here goes:
In Fido, the zombie uprising has come and gone. Circa 1939 (by my reckoning), the dead rose, were fought and contained, and now (in the late 1950’s) have become a social commodity, fitted with electronic collars that subdue their hunger for human flesh, allowing them to be utilized as a cheap, reliable workforce.
America is still the America of the 50’s that we’ve always known and loved – and yet, it’s not quite the 50’s of Leave it to Beaver and Pleasantville. It’s far more realistic than that, with all of the complications and issues of everyday life. Sure, it’s an era of hats, martinis, Hawaiian shirts and educational films. Less pleasantly, though, it’s also an era of sexism, McCarthyism, governmental conspiracies and emotional constipation. Furthermore, extrapolating social developments following the zombie war, it’s an era in which suburbs are fenced in to keep ‘wild’ zombies out, criminals are banished to the unprotected zones, and old people are secured in prisons. Just in case. Funeral plans (complete with ‘head coffin’) are a mark of social status, and primary school children are taught in class how to shoot zombies through the head (although they’re not allowed to actually own a gun themselves until they turn twelve).
It’s this sort of attention to the details of what is, after all, an ‘alternate history’, that underpin the success of this film. The alternate facets aren’t pushed in our faces – they’re simply there, presented as normal aspects of existence. This also successfully sets up the horror element of the film: the sense of horror in most zombie flicks is generated through the introduction of the unthinkable into the midst of ordinary everyday life. In Fido, the unthinkable has become a part of everyday life, and is all the more unsettling for it. Here, the audience is credited with intelligence, and the pay-off is magnificent.
The plot itself is nothing new – it’s essentially the tale of A Boy And His Dog, with Lassie homages aplenty (right down to the obligatory ‘Go get help, boy!’). Average American Timmy Robinson and his Mom and Dad take on a zombie (Connolly, in an unusually ‘straight’ role) to assist with household chores, and a special bond develops between boy and corpse. Bad things happen, and Timmy embarks upon a quest to save his new best friend. However, what could have been a very ordinary concept is raised well above standard fare by some truly brilliant dialogue, and wonderful performances from all the leads. Nothing is overplayed here. The people populating this reality are real people. There are no good guys or bad guys (perhaps excepting the nasty old bitch who lives across the road). Dad is distant and emotionally-retarded, yet thinks of himself as a good father (on being told that his wife is pregnant, his immediate response is: “On my salary, I don’t think I can afford another funeral”). Mom is a shallow social climber who nonetheless demonstrates her commitment to her family’s best interests. Timmy is a sensitive lad with a great deal of sympathy for zombies, yet, like any ten-year-old, is capable of unthinking acts of selfishness and bigotry. Again, none of this is pushed in our faces – it all comes out through dialogue and body language. And, unusually, very little of the comedy – either situational or dialogue-driven – is obviously played for laughs, which gives the film a rich black quality.
Yes, there are a number of messages presented here – it wouldn’t be a 50’s-style film without them – but, as so often happens in real life, we’re mostly left to figure them out ourselves. The characters don’t experience any sudden epiphanies, and the various less-pleasant issues raised are more often simply acknowledged rather than actually dealt with. As Dad advises Timmy in one wince-inducing father/son chat, “Feeling’s not important. Being alive is what counts”.
If you love zombies, romantic comedies or just really good pithy dialogue, you must see Fido. For once, here’s a ZomCom that is at least as good as Shaun of the Dead. Just different.
(Originally posted to HorrorScope, 2008)