*. By 2007 we were reaching a point of peak zombie, and the genre was splintering. Fido falls into one such subgenre, that of zomcom, or zombie comedy (not to be confused with Zomcon, the zombie corporation here).
*. Zombie comedy was there from the beginning (witness the antics of Mantan Moreland in King of the Zombies, or the satire of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), but around this time it really took off with movies like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Juan of the Dead, and this film.
*. But what are we laughing at? Primarily the 1950s, or the alternative-reality 1950s we’re presented with: a Technicolor dream world of bright, lacquered primary colours, preternaturally shiny cars, men in fedoras, and women in aprons, busy in the kitchen cooking dinner or mixing drinks.
*. It all struck me as very tired territory for satire, and not because I grew up in the ’50s (I didn’t). Rather, it struck me as a very similar movie to Parents (1989), which was all about a family of suburban cannibals in 1950s America. And that was twenty-five years ago.
*. The thing is, we’ve always known that the mythic ’50s of Leave It to Beaver was a lie, its small-town, Eisenhower-era idyll only a hypocritical facade for intolerance, closed-mindedness, violence, and repression. We could have got that half-a-century ago from reading Cheever. Or thirty years ago from Blue Velvet (director and co-writer Andrew Currie’s favourite movie, directly referenced a couple of times in this film). That plastic, stuck-on smile we get from Timmy’s dad is a familiar mask.
*. So as far as sending up the ’50s is concerned . . . why bother? Or is something more at stake?
*. To be honest, I don’t think there is much more to the story than this. Fido is pretty much a one-joke movie, and the joke is easily and quickly made. On the commentary track Currie mentions the similarity between Mr. Bottoms and George (presumably W.) Bush, and that’s fair enough. We are living in a kind of security state, a gated-community green zone ringed with fences to protect us from the bad guys outside. Even children have been enlisted into becoming part of the surveillance society (Currie saw the two bully brothes as patterned after the Hitler Youth, with some Boy Scout thrown in for good measure). But this is all obvious and in the end not that interesting.
*. There are a few subtle touches. First there is the age angle, which I can’t remember any zombie movie playing up before. Old people are obviously a threat because they could die at any moment and then immediately turn into zombies (there is no need of a bite to transfer a virus). As the one public service announcement puts it: “The elderly. They seem friendly, but can you really trust them?” Of course not!
*. Then there is the fear of miscegenation. Clearly there’s a racial satire intended, with the zombies constituting a darker-skinned working class doing all the shit jobs around town. But the wrinkle here is in Mrs. Robinson’s line that she intends to “go zombie,” and that Fido is a threat to the Robinson’s marriage. The dance scene — where Mr. Robinson won’t dance with his wife so she picks Fido as a partner — makes it pretty clear what is going on.
*. Finally there is the religious satire. The idea of “head burial” is a barbed one because it really takes an anti-Christian perspective. In a world overrun with zombies, who would want to believe in resurrection of the dead? You’d want to be damn sure that when you die you’ll stay in the ground.
*. Another trend with deep, historical roots in the genre is the zombie as a source of cheap labour. Of course this was the initial raison d’être of zombiehood — putting the undead to work in the Caribbean cane industry — but the idea started to come back in a more contemporary form in Day of the Dead (Dr. Logan thinks the zombies can be trained to do simple tasks), and at the end of Shaun of the Dead where we see how zombies are doing menial, brainless jobs.
*. There’s a real problem with the satire here though, as the zombies, for the most part, are not doing dumb brute labour (like working in a sugar mill), but rather tasks that involve some minimal amount of skill that they are clearly unsuited for. They can’t even deliver newspapers, or serve dinner. And on top of that, they’re so slow that even the simple tasks they might be able to do, poorly, would hardly be worth getting them to do. In short, they are an inconvenience, at least outside of the factory.
*. Carrie-Anne Moss and K’Sun Ray are both good as the only characters with any depth. The rest of the cast are animate figurines. I guess Billy Connolly is fine as Fido, but I can’t get too excited about a guy playing Lassie.
*. This is a good little movie, and there’s nothing wrong with it not being something more. Good little movies don’t always get the appreciation they deserve. It looks nice, the acting is solid, and it never slips in its tone of genteel mockery.