March 15, 2008

FIDO (2006) another marvellous rom-zom-com

(2006, USA/Canada)

After seeing the poster with a little boy leading a pet zombie on a leash, I hoped I was going to love this one. I do!

I wasn’t expecting it to be set in square-jawed suburban fifties America, where picket fence neighbourhood communities are protected by a ring of steel and omnipresent firepower. The riff is that radiation has caused the dead to rise again, but instead of treating it like something new, the story picks up as if the entire George Romero trilogy timeline has already taken place – zombies have almost over-run society but been beaten back in the zombie wars (that Romero wanted to depict in the original Day of the Dead).

Also following on from that film, the zombies have started to regain their original memories and skills. In Fido, this means that they are now ripe for domestication, as long as they wear electronic collars to curb their craving for human flesh.

To me, this is a natural progression on from Day of the Dead (1985). It could be a sequel that Romero never made. Zombie competition is hot at the moment, mostly trying to rekindle the thrills of the gory seventies, but Fido attempts something new with the mythos and gives us a sort of comedy version of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes!

Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix trilogy) is superb as an uptight housewife who gets a zombie just to keep up with the neighbours. Her husband, played by Dylan Baker (Happiness, The Cell), is more interested in golf than raising his son. While Timmy is struggling to understand the principles of zombie slavery at school, but keeps ignoring the rules to see what happens. Well, if you’re not careful with your pet zombie, it’s likely that there’ll be a local scandal, disapproving looks, flesh-eating, and creeping outbreak of serial zombification…

While the story is inventive and rewarding, with a host of enjoyable character actors really enjoying the fifties surroundings. The movie pulls its punches on gore, shocks, belly-laughs and even zombie sex, resulting almost in a kids movie largely centred around the neighbourhood children. But with regular scenes of flesh-eating and some splattery head wounds, it’s hard to recommend to the early teens.

Several dramatic themes are built up but left open-ended, and at times the story seems to rush past plot points between scenes, making it look like a shortened version of the intended story.

But it’s good-natured, with everyone playing it straight and ignoring the bizarreness of the premise. It’s blackly humourless without being grim and makes few political points with such a heavily loaded scenario.

The beautiful metallic cars and primary colours contrast with the miserable zombies’ grey pallour, yet there’s still could be a place for them in middle America, if there can be zombie integration.

K’Sun Ray as Timmy, holds the film on track whenever Carrie-Anne Moss isn’t around. Tim Blake Nelson (spectacularly stupid in the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?) has a great part as an eccentric neighbour with a zombie playmate. Fido himself is played by an unrecognisable Billy Connolly, who builds on the classic portrayal of zombie Bub (Sherman Howard) also from the first Day of the Dead. Well, there aren’t many other performances of zombies with dawning self-awareness around to study.

The usually bearded actor/comedian is hugely popular in the UK, where this still hasn’t been released. It’s a cult movie - come on, you’ll make money!

Fido can be tracked down on DVD in the US (from Lionsgate) and around Europe (but not the UK).

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