Fido (2006)

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-Review by Paul Ewbank-

Ever wonder what Lassie would’ve been like if Timmy had befriended a flesh eating undead monster instead of an impeccably groomed rough collie? Yeah, me neither. Because it’s a stupid idea. But, thanks to this film, Fido, you’ll never have to wonder again. And the result is as ridiculous as it sounds.

So apparently in the 1940s a zombie outbreak terrorised America and was barely contained by the defence organisation ZomCon. Who knew? Fido is set in after the outbreak, in a 50s suburban America where children are taught rifle shooting and explosive making alongside maths, and zombies are turned into tame house-servants by special brain controlling collars. The main character is a wussy, lonely schoolboy (and yes, his name really is Timmy) who get bullied by the local ZomCom cadets and ignored by his clueless career driven father and fussy what-will-the-neighbours-think mother (played by Trinity from the Matrix and barely recognisable!). The family purchase a zombie  (played by Billy Connolly, of all people) to help around the house and lonely little Timmy, despite initially hating the festering corpse newly installed in his house, begins to form a bond with him, taking him for walks and games of fetch and even naming his new pal Fido. Fido, for his part, reacts in typical zombie style by groaning, shambling about and mauling old people whenever his mind control wears off.

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So that’s the first big gag in Fido– a weedy kid finding himself by bonding with a pet zombie as though it was a dog. The second big gag is inserting the living dead into prim and proper 1950s America. Expect sight gags, slapstick and satire by the bucketload. The style and setting are pulled off so convincingly that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a zombie movie altogether. This thing really does look and sound like a feel good family film from a few decades ago; Timmy’s lines could have been lifted from any number of Lassie knock-offs (and probably were), the white picket fence sets and sickeningly middle class affluence are pitch perfect and the film’s structure follows the typical arc of those kinds of movies to the letter. Even the music is brilliantly synced to the style Fido is mimicking: the rousing-but-not-too-threatening orchestral music played during action scenes sounds more like the accompaniment to a scene of a dog leaping onto a moving train to save his beloved master than a scene of undead monsters escaping a factory and rending innocent civilians limb from limb.

The sum total of all this is a film that’s so convincing in its pastiche of a different era that the sheer absurdity of it can often pass you by. It’s so engrossing in its weirdness that you have to take yourself out of the moment to find it funny. Stuff like Timmy’s mum wanting a zombie because “all the neighbours have one” or his dad lusting after expensive funeral care which guarantees you don’t come back when you die is played so straight that it takes you a few moments to take it in. The ZomCon endorsed public safety messages are another highlight- hilariously juxtaposing zombie survival strategies with the language and style of a much more innocent generation. The levels of gore are low-surprisingly so for this genre- making this one safe to watch for the young or squeamish,  and this got me thinking: is this film really meant as a parody at all?

Now, bear with me. I’m probably way off with this, but just imagine for one moment that you’re a ten year old child watching Fido without having seen Lassie or Home Alone or A Christmas Carol or any of that ilk of film. Would you get that this movie was taking the mick, or would you genuinely see a heartwarming story of a little kid making friends with a dead guy who wants to be human again? If you hadn’t ever seen another zombie movie, if this was your introduction to the genre, would people using zombies as household pets really seem that strange? Could it be that, in the eyes of a child, Fido is every bit the morality tale an adult viewer would see it as parodying? Heck, there’s plenty of things in here that aren’t funny at all- Timmy’s dad has some pretty big daddy issues of his own which aren’t played for laughs at all, and his mum’s story arc has her go from indifferent to sympathetic regarding her son’s worries in a way that’s genuinely nice, not spoof-nice.  I’m almost certain that wasn’t the filmmaker’s intention, and being nigh indistinguishable from your source material is the sign of good satire, but this could very well be the first of a new kind of family film from the zombie-wise kids of today. Kids could watch this and have all the fun of zombies with the added bonus of life lessons on the importance of friendship and family. And wouldn’t that be totally awesome?

Now before you rush off to show this to your five year old daughter, let me clarify that Fido is low on gore FOR A ZOMBIE MOVIE. There’s still limb removal and cannibalism aplenty, so use caution. Whether or not it works as a children’s film, it works brilliantly as an adult parody thereof and is both hilarious and original, and I was very surprised by how much I liked it. But I can’t shake the feeling that maybe it was meant to be something more. Or maybe I just want to think that there’s a zombie movie I can watch with my kids which won’t scar them for life.

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