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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Canadian Film Review: Fido (2006)

* * *

Director: Andrew Currie
Starring: Carrie-Anne Moss, Billy Connolly, K'Sun Ray, Dylan Baker, Henry Czerny

The key to Fido’s success is that it plays things straight. It believes fully in the world it has created, one in which domesticated zombies perform household tasks and a person's greatest ambition is to save enough money to get a double funeral upon death - one for your head, the other for your body (to avoid becoming a zombie, natch). With a sharp wit and delightful performances from Billy Connolly and Carrie-Anne Moss, Fido makes for an immensely enjoyable film.

Fido seems to take place in the 1950s, though it’s difficult to say exactly since it takes place in an alternate reality where zombies are commonplace. Years earlier, a mock educational video explains, radiation from space caused the dead to rise as zombies, creating chaos across the globe. The solution was to build large fences around towns, effectively turning them into city states with large no-go zones in between where zombies still roam free. In the town of Willard, zombies have been turned into servants thanks to special collars created by scientists at Zomcon, which render the creatures harmless. If the collar is turned off, however, the zombie becomes “wild” again, likely making the person who was once its master into its next victim.

Zombies are of great interest to young Timmy Robinson (K’Sun Ray), a social misfit who wonders whether the dead who didn’t rise are still in their graves, struggling to get out. His questions are dismissed and ignored at school when Zomcon’s security chief (Henry Czerny) comes to speak to the class, further alienating him. Things aren’t much better at home, where he tosses a baseball to himself in the front yard and is admonished by his mother (Moss), who tells him not to play by himself because then neighbours will think that he’s lonely. When she brings home a zombie (Connolly) so that the family will cease to be the only one on the block without one, it becomes Timmy’s companion, whom he names Fido. Fido becomes an increasingly important part of Timmy’s life as well as that of his mother, making for a very odd love triangle that leaves Mr. Robinson (Dylan Baker) increasingly marginalized.

The world of Fido is one preoccupied with death not as a danger, but as a business. In the film, the only thing that prevents a corpse from becoming a zombie is to separate the head from the body and bury them separately. To afford such a burial means scrimping and saving for a lifetime; Mr. Robinson’s proudest achievement is that he’s put away enough money to ensure that he, his wife and their son will all be able to be buried rather than become zombies and when he learns that his wife is pregnant, he looks at her plaintively and declares that he just doesn’t think he can afford another funeral on his salary (and he says this while reading a magazine called “Death,” which is my favourite sight gag from the film). Why should funerals be so expensive if the alternative is more zombies and their inherent dangers? The collar eliminates that danger and turns the zombies into a massive source of free labour. Since the zombies are no longer “people” in a technical sense, they can be used, abused, and discarded without penalty. This is as much a film about corporate greed and corruption as a comedy about zombie movie conventions.

The film has a lot of fun playing 1950s style wholesomeness against an ironic humour. “Now I know you’re not supposed to have a handgun until you’re twelve,” Mr. Robinson tells his son, “but it can come in real handy.” Of course, since the school’s curriculum includes time at the shooting range, it’s not as if Timmy will encounter any zero tolerance policies. The actors play these scenes with a degree of sincerity that helps keep the premise afloat - this wouldn’t work if you felt like the characters knew, on some level, that the story is silly. Of the actors Moss has to do the most heavy lifting and does it with ease, breezing through the film’s most defined character arc and becoming a thoroughly rootable heroine. Her relationship with Fido becomes increasingly complex (and bizarre), but she and Connolly - who makes Fido a surprisingly lively zombie - manage to pull it off and make for a rather charming couple, for lack of a better word. The whole movie, in fact, is charming (despite a bit of gore) and definitely one of the better zombie comedies to come out in the last few years.


blake said...

I totally agree with you. I thought Fido was spot on with its humor.

Norma Desmond said...

I wasn't expecting much from it, but it was considerably more clever than I'd been anticipating.