Fido (2006)

21 Oct

One good thing about a zombie dance partner: He won't mind if you step on his foot.

So … zombies are kind of everywhere these days, and — although I don’t agree with it — I guess I can sort of understand when people say they’re sort of over them. I mean, there’s only so much you can do with dumb, lumbering dead people that are intensely brain-driven and prove easy to kill once you know how. Smart filmmakers are coming up with new ways to make zombie movies without actually making movies about zombies. With its blend of black humor, ’50s shtick, sharp satire and, yes, plenty of gore, “Fido” is right on trend.

This nifty little movie opens with a newsreel-style bit of propaganda for the Zomcon corporation which tells of the Great Zombie Wars that seemed unwinnable until a Zomcon scientist discovered how to stop the zombie plague. The corporation then developed another piece of breakthrough technology: A collar which eliminates the zombie’s desire to feed on humans. With this invention, zombies became useful contributors to society again, and Zomcon established itself in a key position in the resulting nanny state. But young Timmy Robinson (Kesun Loder, credited as K’Sun Ray) isn’t quite buying the company line, a stance that gets him bullied on a regular basis.

Timmy’s not the only member of his family who has issues with zombies. His father, Bill (Dylan Baker), is adamantly anti-zombie owing to having to kill his zombified father during the war. Timmy’s mother, Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss), is constantly having to make excuses as to why the Robinsons don’t have a zombie or two helping out around the house. When the Zomcon head of safety for the City of Willard moves in down the street, Helen decides enough is enough. She returns home with a domesticated zombie, and Bill grudgingly allows her to keep it. After the zombie saves Timmy from another beating at the hands of bullies, the boy becomes attached to the creature, naming him Fido (Billy Connolly). Even Helen starts to warm to the zombie, confiding in him in the absence of her always distant husband. Trouble is, Fido’s collar isn’t exactly reliable, and when nasty Mrs. Henderson from down the street goes missing, the Robinsons find themselves on the answering end of some very serious questions.

Bill Robinson's obsession with death has led him to photographing funerals as a hobby. And he drags his family along. No wonder they prefer the company of a zombie.

“Fido” follows in a tradition of zombie movie as satire which started way back with Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead.” This film was released in 2006, and it’s not difficult to see some parallels between the passive, all-trusting, keep-the-bad-stuff-hidden denizens of Willard and the American public which had elected George W. Bush for a second term. Director and co-writer Andrew Currie has admitted as much. In particular, the film comments on the culture of fear which began after 9/11 and which, as of this writing, is still going strong. The father character, Bill Robinson, is so consumed by his fear of zombies that he is blind to everything else in his life. His greatest ambition is to have a special, expensive type of funeral in which the head is removed from the body, ensuring he will never become a zombie. In a cheeky bit of business, we see him wearing his striped pajamas, tucked snug into his twin bed, reading his copy of Death magazine. He is so entrenched in his own fear and paranoia that he fails to notice the affection of his son or his wife’s obvious pregnancy. Small wonder that both Timmy and Helen start to transfer their attentions to Fido, who can show that he cares for their well-being even if he can’t express his feelings.

Currie goes one further, however. By painting his satire broadly, we get not only a concentrated view of how living in fear can affect one family, we also get to see how living in fear changes societies. As we learn in the newsreel opening, each major city in the country is now surrounded by fences which safety head Mr. Bottoms vows to build higher. There is a negative press campaign against the elderly; more than once the characters mutter about how they can’t be trusted. They’re old, you see, and therefore likely to become zombies soon. The children all engage in marksmanship courses during their outside activity time, chanting about how “headshots are the very best.” As we learn later in the film, cover-ups are de rigueur whenever there is a zombie incident; the people must be kept uninformed about small incidents lest they start to believe they have been lied to and are unsafe. The dual layers of satire work well together and there’s enough emotion and extra funny business to balance the barbs, keeping the film light.

Setting the film in the aw-shucks 1950s helps take some of the bite out of the satire and provides the movie with great style and the opportunity to riff on itself. The tame dialogue and cheerful color palette juxtaposes sharply with the few sequences of violence so that the impact is more intense. (“Fido” is rated R for “zombie-related violence.” I’m not joking.) The sets are just fantastic; the Robinsons’ floor-to-ceiling turquoise kitchen is amazing, and the other home interiors are equally impressive. And thankfully the film doesn’t back away from some of the shoulda-seen-em-coming-type jokes that had me giggling more than once.

The action is populated by a lot of those types of actors and actresses that make you wonder where you’ve seen them before. Carrie-Anne Moss is the most recognizable of the bunch, and she gives the most subtle speaking performance of the film. Most of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, but Moss brings real heart to her role as the unhappy, but loyal, housewife. Her Helen seems as Stepford as they come in her first few scenes, but that facade cracks little by little to let the woman underneath show through. Billy Connolly is a true surprise in the mute zombie role. He can rely only upon expression, the softening of his eyes or the tightening of his jaw, to express any sort of emotion, and he does a fine job. The few scenes between Fido and Helen — which could easily veer into unsavory territory — come off quite sweet and touching. Helen is not portrayed as a woman who is seeking a lover — she only wants a friend, and that utter loneliness and sadness is, perhaps, most fitting to share with a zombie.

The scenes with Mr. Theopolis and his zombie companion Tammy are nice little bits of business that serve little purpose other than simply being odd and hilarious.

If I have a complaint about “Fido,” it’s that, at a certain point, it gets a tad too predictable. Outside of perhaps a minor twist or two, nothing happens in this movie that you don’t expect to happen. I feel this is a conscious and intentional move on the filmmaker’s part, however — a sort of feel-good zombie movie as it were. Stylistically it makes sense, so I can’t grumble too much. Getting to the end of this savvy little flick is a fun ride, even if it is pretty easy to figure out where the action’s headed.

This is the first 31 Nights of Horror entry to earn a double categorization — comedy and horror. My advice is to not get hung up on that. Sure “Fido” may not deliver big scares, but it is a smart, thoroughly enjoyable little film that honors its zombie lineage with some sharp and still timely satire. Maybe wait til after Halloween, then give it a chance. Three stars out of four.

Fido“: Rated R. Starring Carrie-Anne Moss, Billy Connolly, Dylan Baker, Kesun Loder (credited as K’Sun Ray), Sonja Bennett, Jennifer Clement, Rob LaBelle, Aaron Brown, Brandon Olds, Alexia Fast, Henry Czerny and Tim Blake Nelson. Directed by Andrew Currie. Written by Robert Chomiak, Andrew Currie and Dennis Heaton. Story by Dennis Heaton. Cinematography by Jan Kiesser. Set decoration by James Willcock. Original music by Don MacDonald (as Don Macdonald).

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  1. 31 Nights of Horror: Final thoughts (2010) « Rhanda watches - November 23, 2010

    […] “Night of the Demons” and “Sleepaway Camp” as straight horror and “Fido” as a […]

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