Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan


Posted by CinemaPsycho on May 16, 2007

Directed by Andrew Currie/screenplay by Robert Chomiak & Dennis Heaton & Andrew Currie, story by Dennis Heaton/starring Billy Connolly, Carrie-Anne Moss, Dylan Baker, Henry Czerny, Tim Blake Nelson, K’Sun Ray/Lionsgate Films

A dysfunctional family adopts a domesticated zombie in an alternate 1950s America.

It’s pretty rare that I get to see anything before its theatrical release, much less two months early. But in mid-April I had the opportunity to see this film, currently scheduled for a June 15th release, at a special premiere screening. It’s taken me this long to finally get around to writing my review, but there’s still plenty of time to hopefully help make people aware of a terrific little indie movie that deserves to be a sleeper hit. I have no idea how big a release Lionsgate plans to give Fido, and there will no doubt be a ton of big blockbusters in theaters at the same time in any event. But this is absolutely a film to look out for, and I seriously doubt that the likes of Nancy Drew and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (both scheduled for that weekend) will provide the kind of smart, wicked fun that you’ll find here.

Fido is basically set in an alternate universe, one in which the “Zombie Wars” were fought in the ‘50’s and America emerged victorious, allowing a large corporation to domesticate the remaining zombies and train them to be pets/slaves. Confused? Don’t worry, the movie explains all of this in a clever opening sequence. You buy the premise, you buy the movie.

The Robinsons are the last family on their block to have a zombie of their own, due to patriarch Bill (Baker) and his seemingly irrational phobia of zombies. What could be so scary about the living dead? They’re as harmless as can be, as long as their electrified collars are in working order. But when the smarmy head of ZomCon (Czerny) and his family move in across the street, Bill’s frustrated wife Helen (Moss) insists on getting one. After all, what will the neighbors think?

Enter Fido (Connolly), a domesticated zombie who becomes the Robinsons’ servant and best friend/pet to Timmy (Ray), their lonely, introspective young son. Much like the faithful dog that provides his namesake, Fido proves ferociously loyal to Timmy and comes in handy when dealing with bullies. But when his electrified collar malfunctions, he forgets his training and becomes a “bad zombie” who likes to take a bite out of whoever’s nearby. This makes Timmy’s life complicated, because he doesn’t want his parents to send his new friend back to ZomCon. So he covers up Fido’s accidental murders, rousing the suspicions of his influential new neighbor while trying to keep his new best buddy from chomping on anyone else.

What results is a deliciously biting satire (literally) that sends up the complacency of the 1950s while raising relevant issues to our current situation. Shot in gorgeous widescreen Technicolor, the lush cinematography reminds one of the soapy mainstream films of Douglas Sirk, which were popular in that era. The idea is basically Far From Heaven with gory zombie action, a concept that really should not work but absolutely does thanks to Currie’s smart direction and a blisteringly funny script. Fido manages to take pointed shots at the specific era in which it’s set, while effectively skewering the general American tendency to exploit the less fortunate (in this case, the walking dead) and spread fear and distrust among its citizens to keep them in line. There are also plenty of subtle jabs at the American ideal (then and now) of the “nuclear family”, as Fido’s presence disrupts the balance of the dysfunctional Robinsons.

The performances are dead-on across the board as well, with the talented cast working well as an ensemble while shining in individual moments. Scottish verbal comic Connolly is surprisingly adept in a purely physical comic role as the lumbering, awkward zombie who possesses an unthinking affection for his new family. Newcomer Ray is a standout as the put-upon kid who will do anything he can to keep his new friend with him, regardless of who gets eaten. Moss is a revelation as the frustrated housewife who cares more about appearances than reality, but questions her own values when she starts developing feelings for the new male figure in the household in the absence of her own husband’s attentions. Baker is equally effective as the Ward Cleaver-esque Bill, who wraps himself up in his work and doesn’t comprehend why his wife and child feel so neglected when they have all the suburban luxuries money can buy. Czerny is a smarmy delight as the fearmongering ZomCon head with his own secrets to protect, while Nelson steals scenes as a pipe-smoking bachelor whose personal zombie is a hot young blonde named Tammy. It’s to the actors’ credit that these characters, who could have come off as one-dimensional archetypes, instead register as specific individuals whose fates we care about.

I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to Shaun of the Dead when people talk about this movie, simply because both are “zomcoms” (I guess that’s a genre now), but to me the two films are completely different in just about every way. It’s like saying that Star Wars and 2001 are the same film because they’re both set in outer space. While I enjoyed Shaun quite a bit, it’s essentially a post-modern parody of zombie movies, a film geek’s running inside joke (and I actually prefer that team’s recent Hot Fuzz, which I find sharper and funnier). Fido is a very different animal, more of a thinly veiled social and political satire which happens to use zombies to make its points. One need not be intimately familiar with the works of George Romero or Lucio Fulci to get the jokes. It’s a hugely enjoyable comedy, don’t get me wrong – but it’s also a movie about something, which is all too rare a combination these days. In a summer cluttered with disposable big-budget blockbusters (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you), Fido is a film worth seeking out and thinking about.

If I may direct one criticism to Lionsgate, however; that poster you’re using to promote the film is hideously ugly and doesn’t really get the idea of the movie across. Do you really expect to sell tickets to this thing with a black-and-white shot of Billy Connolly’s head against a bright red background, surrounded by critics’ quotes? I strongly suggest you work up something that sells people on the concept and the horror-comedy elements, because when audiences get a look at this movie, they’re going to love it. It’s your job to get them into the theater. You’ve got a real gem on your hands here – don’t blow it.

**** 5/16/07

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