What’s all this, then?
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Attack the Block (2011)
You’ll see what I’m on about after the trailers, mate.
I’ve been a bit of an Anglophile ever since high school, when I discovered that my local PBS station broadcast reruns of not only Monty Python’s Flying Circus but also other British imports like Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served?, May to December (quite possibly the most adorable depiction of that trope you’ll ever see), and Red Dwarf. (OMG RED DWARF but that’s another topic.)
For me, British television shows are basically secondary world fiction: the setting is similar enough to my own home that I can understand why and how people do things, but the details are foreign enough to lend an air of the exotic. Everything from the way people speak (both accents and vocabulary) and the way specific social or political constructs work are just a little different, which makes it interesting to decode and remap to my own experience of the world.
But we’re not talking about TV right now, otherwise I’d be going on about The IT Crowd and Spaced and Coupling and No Heroics and BlackAdder and ‘Allo ‘Allo! and Downton Abbey and many, many others. No, we’re talking about movies, and how Great Britain perceives and presents itself in fiction as a beacon of civilization. The UK certainly has a lot of history to lend gravitas, but history also means a lot of cultural baggage which may now be outdated or downright reactionary. And that friction between past and future can make for very interesting stories.
These two movies cleverly repurpose the well-established zombie plague and alien invasion tropes, respectively, and in particular show us how groups of unlikely heroes deal with their homes being threatened. How do you react to a heretofore unimagined danger that’s now staring you in the face? How do your friends react? Who and what do you choose to protect when you can’t save everyone, and what does that tell the audience about your character? (And for me, watching what are essentially humanoid aliens endure these stories provides a welcome psychological buffer to mitigate the horror.)
Last but not least, both films are entertaining at their core, and managed do a lot of cool stuff with modest budgets (an estimated £4 million for Shaun and $13 million for Block, per IMDb). I like a good special effect as much as anyone, but I also appreciate when action set pieces are held back or kept offscreen in order to focus on characters and relationship. Because that’s what any life-and-death crisis is really about—not the thing that might kill you, but who you’ll be if you manage to survive it.