Friday 8 August 2008

Fido (2006)

Friday 8 August 2008
Director: Andrew Currie
Writers: Andrew Currie & Dennis Heaton

Cast: Carrie-Anne Moss (Helen Robinson), Dylan Baker (Bill Robinson), Billy Connolly (Fido), K'Sun Ray (Timmy Robinson), Henry Czerny (Jonathan Bottoms), Alexia Fast (Cindy Bottoms), Tim Blake Nelson (Mr. Theopolis), Aaron Brown (Ray Fraser), Brandon Olds (Stan Fraser) & Terry Keyes (Herman The Gravedigger)

The concept is brilliant: a parallel universe set in '50s American suburbia, shortly after a devastating Zombie War, where the undead were eventually defeated and turned into slaves thanks to "domestication collars" created by Z-Com. Cue scenes of a sunny idyll of white picket fences and trimmed hedgerows... where grey zombies work as crossing guards, postmen, paperboys, milkmen, etc.

The Robinson family -- dad Bill (Dylan Baker), mom Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) and young son Timmy (K'Sun Ray) -- are the latest in the neighbourhood to buy a zombie to help with household chores, later nicknamed "Fido" (an unrecognisable Billy Connolly). The main thrust of the film comes from watching Fido become a surrogate for Timmy's preoccupied zombie-hating father, and unwittingly woo Helen with his silent devotion to her. Matters are complicated by Fido's malfunctioning collar, which returns him to his flesh-eating ways for brief periods. Enough time for him to kill an elderly neighbour and provide a catalyst for ZWII...

The annoying thing about Fido is that, after an inventive and humorous opening (recounting the Zombie War with an educational videotape shown to a classroom of kids, and the exploitation of the undead by mild townsfolk), the film can't make its one-joke last the distance. At 90-minutes, it's a relatively short film, but goodwill begins to run thin around the 40-minute mark. It eventually comes as something of a relief when it's over.

There are some nice performances, however. Carrie-Ann Moss is a world away from The Matrix's ass-kicking Trinity here, although her slightly androgynous features means she's not quite the typical '50s housewife the premise demands. On the contrary, noted character actor Dylan Baker is born to play people from this era, while talented K'Sun Ray has a voice you immediately associate with the period's gee-whiz innocence. Billy Connelly is pretty sharp at the physicality of Fido (not something he's known for), although his bag of tricks only really amounts to sighing, groaning, and rolling his eyes.

It's a film of moments, most not fulfilling their promise. For example; a middle-aged neighbour has himself a teenage zombie "sex slave". Its edgy stuff, when you think about it: is she the ultimate blow-up sex doll? Does this amount to necrophilia? Is it, at the very least, abuse of a "retarded" teenager? Where are her parents, and what do they think of this? I'm not suggesting a film designed to be a high-concept comedy should go into too much depth about the questions it throws up, just that there are too many intriguing notions that go unanswered, or ignored. A braver film might have tackled them. But Fido is quick to press on with its predictable story of a surrogate zombie dad/lover/friend scenario. It's The Iron Giant with flesh-eating.

Overall, Fido lacks a satirical focus, meaning audiences are left to ponder what a few more rewrites of the script could have delivered. The main source of comedy (everyone's blithe acceptance of death in a fragile utopia) isn't enough to sustain prolonged interest, but it's sprinkled with enough amusing sights and ideas to appeal to zombie fans. A disappointment, but it has its moments.

LionsGate Films
Budget: $11 million
91 minutes