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Visual Ingenuity: Why Edgar Wright is One of My Favorite Filmmakers

Edgar Wright has long been one of my favorite writers/directors not because his films are funny and entertaining (though they are), but because of his incredibly distinct visual style. From his modern horror-comedy classsic Shaun of the Dead (2004) to his buddy-cop riot Hot Fuzz (2007), he helms and edits his work in a way that always utilizes the 'picture' in 'motion picture' to hit the beats he wants. Let's dive in.

The One That (Sort Of) Started It All: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

source: Working Title

While not technically his first feature (he had previously directed a low-budget western parody titled A Fistful of Fingers (1995)), this is the picture that unequivocally put Edgar Wright on the map as a director to watch. The story follows a going-nowhere retail worker named Shaun (Simon Pegg, absolutely outstanding) whose relationship with girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield)- and indeed, his life- is rather stagnant due to his friendship with the directionless Ed (Nick Frost, also stupendous). When a viral outbreak leads to a zombie infestation, Shaun must rise to the occasion in order to not only save the ones he loves, but to grow into his best self.

source: Working Title

Part of where this movie really gets me going is in its cinematography by David Dunlap. Wright is known for doing tons of takes for the smallest details or camera movements, and this film shows off why. He doesn't just show Shaun doing his morning routine in one take. He does it twice, with the exact same details, with the exact same extras and movement, before and after the zombie apocalypse begins. What makes it even funnier is that Simon Pegg gives the exact same bored, stiff stroll both times, because why wouldn't he? Shaun practically lives a zombified existence.

Chris Dickens' editing also suits Wright's zip-bang sensibility marvelously. Some of the shots move so quick, that I imagine it was hard to nail the right pace. But Dickens somehow manages to establish a pace that's not only fast, but at times ironically fast. Even Shaun making his morning toast gets a series of flashy cuts as he prepares the measly breakfast.

source: Working Title

Speaking to both the cinematography and editing, there's a standout scene where an undead bartender is beaten to the rhythm of Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now'. It's a weird, meticulous balance like this that just sucks you in with how much it shouldn't work, but does.

On top of that, the movie doesn't just spoof the zombie genre. It treats its characters with much seriousness, and the actors never wink at the camera. Simon Pegg even shows off some utterly convincing dramatic chops late in the story, as Shaun is compelled to make an unthinkable sacrifice. Tying together love, friendship, and gut-munching gore? It shouldn't cohere, but it does so in spades.

Reinventing the Buddy-Cop Film with Hot Fuzz (2007)

source: Working Title

Once Edgar Wright unleashed a new kind of zombie film on the public, he then decided to put his unique spin on the buddy-cop movie with what's become one of my all-time favorite comedies. In this absolute masterpiece of humor, Sgt. Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is so good at his job that everyone on the force hates him for it. Subsequently, he's sent to the quiet village Sandford, where nothing seems to happen. While there, solo act Angel is unfortunately teamed up with the captain's son, Danny Butterman (Frost), who can't not talk about his love of action cinema. Coincidentally, a string of graphic murders occurs within the community, and Angel must overcome his self-absorbed ego and draw on the help of his fellow squad members to uncover the larger conspiracy.

source: Working Title

I like this movie for a lot of the fun, stylish elements I discussed in relation to Shaun of the Dead (2004), but there's also more to it than that. Instead of being about a bum who finally takes life by the horns, I love that this story is about a guy letting his guard down, and accepting that maybe he can't do everything on his own. It makes for an interesting arc, which Simon Pegg makes totally believable. Nick Frost is also positively adorkable as Danny. He may be a goofball, but he just wants a friend, and to prove himself as a member of the force. Every one of Frost's mannerisms, expressions and line deliveries convey that in spades.

I also love that the film goes full-bore once it gets to the action sequences, which are graphic, hyper-stylized, and wisely utilize practical special effects. While it doesn't necessarily upstage the characters and story, Wright doesn't hold back. Marcus Rowland's production also helps the action stand out, by making Sandford look and feel like a genuinely lived-in, quaint locale. All of these ingredients cohere to make Hot Fuzz (2007) incredibly riotous not because its plot is new, but because it's a cop movie by the guys who created Shaun of the Dead. If that isn't the best reason to see it, I don't know what is.

Body Snatchers with a Twist in The World's End (2013)

source: Focus Features

In the third and final installment of his unofficial 'Cornetto Trilogy', Wright crafted a story that's both even bigger, wilder, and more personal than its predecessors. This sci-fi action comedy follows Gary King (Pegg), a burnout drunk who gathers his old friends together after twenty years, to complete a famed pub crawl called The Golden Mile. As Gary's former cohorts reluctantly band together to travel down memory lane, they suddenly discover their hometown has been taken over by robots disguised as human beings. Now, the group must figure out what the hell's going on, and prevent the apocalypse if they want to hit every last pub.

source: Focus Features

The personal angle to all of this comes in Simon Pegg's previous real-life struggles with alcoholism, as diligently documented in Chris Collis' biography You've Got Red On You. Having yet again collaborated with Edgar Wright on the screenplay, it's clear that this must hav been a cathartic creative experience. It isn't just a routine genre film. This is a beautiful story about overcoming your demons, and embracing yourself for the flawed individual you really are.

It's also wickedly enjoyable for the interplay between Pegg and Frost's fellow cast members; Paddy Conisidine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike. The story smartly takes its time to establish the characters and their relationships well before the robot invasion is unearthed, which allows for everyone to just have a ball playing off each other. Paul Machliss' editing leans into that sense of joy as well, as the movie has an excitable energy that is positively infectious whilst it simultaneously moves everything along swimmingly.

source: Focus Features

Not to mention that the action sequences are just as exhilirating. From the fight choreography, to the stunt coordination, to the perfect blend of practical and computer-generated effects, The World's End is about as much of an action comedy as Hot Fuzz was.

In Closing

source: Sony

If I were to put together a list of directors whose work I can identify without even seeing their name in the credits, Edgar Wright would easily be number one. His visual eye, his impeccable sense of timing, and his ability to connect larger-than-life stories with grounder character studies make him a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic voice, especially when it comes to humor. Even when he missteps (I'm looking at you, Last Night in Soho (2021)), he commits fully to his strange visions, and always builds them from a foundation that an audience can relate to. No matter what he's got up his sleeve next, you can bet money I'll be buying a ticket to see it.

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