Movies: Fido (2006)

I remember back in 2006 when the zombie comedy Fido first came out, I was really interested to see it. It looked like a hilarious concept, it starred the delightful Scottish comedian Billy Connolly as one of the lumbering undead, and I was still feeling residual goodwill toward the zombie comedy genre, as the classic Shaun of the Dead had come out only a couple of years before.

But then, for whatever reason, I never got around to seeing Fido, and sadly, it seems to have become one of those largely forgotten movies that people don’t really talk about all that much anymore. So when I was scrolling through Tubi one day and saw that it was free to watch, I thought I would finally rectify my embarrassing oversight and give it a look.

And now I’m kicking myself for waiting sixteen goddamn years to watch this thing, because it’s really a great movie: funny, heartfelt, even a touch gory, with dry black humor and some razor sharp social satire that’s presented so charmingly that it never feels shoehorned in. I’ve seen it pitched as “what if George Romero had directed Pleasantville,” and that’s a fairly accurate summation, though it has a much more scrappy loveableness to it than that brief description would suggest.

Fido is a Canadian film, directed by Andrew Currie, and it posits an alternate, idealized 1950s where the planet Earth traveled through some sort of space radiation (a nod to Night of the Living Dead) that reanimated all the corpses and transformed them into flesh-eaters. In this universe, you don’t have to get bit by a zombie to become one; everyone will become a zombie after they die.

At some time in the past, before the events of the film, there was apparently a series of Zombie Wars, in which many people and zombies were wiped out. In the wake of the battles, though, a large corporation called ZomCon emerged victorious, as they figured out a way to fit the remaining zombies with special collars that tamp down their people-eating urges and allow them to be used for manual labor of all kinds. Now, 90% of the population (the poor, in other words) are allowed to zombify after death and turned into servants, while the top 10% get fancy funerals, complete with separate “head coffins,” to ensure that they won’t reanimate.

This isn’t explicitly stated in the movie, but it’s insinuated that ZomCon essentially runs the government: their trucks patrol the pleasant, tree-lined streets of suburbia, discreetly rounding up troublesome zombies and taking them back to the factory for tune-ups. They also produce hilarious, educational short films (one of which opens the movie and explains the premise) about the zombie menace, reminding everyone that elderly people are never to be trusted (because they could drop dead at any moment and become one of the undead), and that citizens—even children—should always be armed and vigilant. There’s even a rhyme taught to schoolchildren: “In the brain and not the chest. Head shots are the very best.”

The funniest thing about all of this is that it’s all couched in the idyllic atmosphere of a wholesome 1950s sitcom, like Lassie or Leave It To Beaver. None of the characters think any of this is weird or sinister; it’s just the way things are, and the way things must be in order to maintain their cushy, suburban lifestyles. No one is even too bothered by the fact that anyone who causes dissention is apparently sent to the Wild Zone, an area outside the safety of the town where the zombies are uncontained and one has to fend for oneself.

The action in the movie takes place in a town called Willard, and we’re following the Robinson family: mom Helen (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), dad Bill (played by Dylan Baker), and son Timmy (played by K’Sun Ray). Initially, the Robinsons are portrayed as the stereotypical 50s family ideal, where mom is a dutiful housewife who never has a hair out of place, and dad is distant and uninvolved, preferring to while away his weekends golfing with the boys rather than spending time with his wife or son.

There’s also an undercurrent of consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses to the whole situation; appearances are paramount. So when the new head of security at ZomCon—Jonathan Bottoms, played by Henry Czerny—moves in across the street from the Robinsons, Helen begins to agitate for getting a zombie servant of their very own, as she’s very embarrassed to be part of the only family in town who doesn’t have one.

Though he will never really admit it, you see, Bill is terrified of zombies, ever since he was forced to kill his dad when he was a child after his dad zombified and tried to eat him. Helen kinda goes behind his back and buys a zombie anyway, and Bill is pissed, but grudgingly goes along with it for the sake of conforming to the community standards.

Timmy, meanwhile, is having his own problems; he’s constantly bullied in school, particularly by two overly ardent ZomCon scouts. One day, though, while the bullies are picking on him, the zombie intervenes and frightens the asshole kids off, after which Timmy begins to befriend the groaning shambler, dubbing him Fido and teaching him to play catch. There’s also an underlying bittersweet vibe to the whole scenario, as Timmy is clearly in need of the father figure that Bill is unable or unwilling to provide, so the boy is basically using the zombie as a surrogate dad, and as the movie goes on, it becomes equally obvious that Helen is starting to recognize the zombie’s humanity too, as Fido can give her the attention that her husband won’t.

Not too long into the proceedings, though, Fido’s collar malfunctions, and he partially eats a horrible neighbor lady, which causes a minor zombie outbreak in Willard and threatens the ersatz little family that Timmy, Helen, and Fido have established.

One of the great things about this movie is the subtlety of it, and the affability of its humor. The over-the-top premise totally works because everything is presented very matter-of-factly, very pragmatically; even when, for example, Helen has to step up, take out some zombie kids, and burn all the evidence, there is no hysteria or hand-wringing; she just does what needs to be done to protect her family, with unflappable resolve and aplomb. Carrie-Anne Moss, I have to say, kills it here, finding the perfect balance of status-conscious 50s housewife and strong, desperate woman yearning to break free from her humdrum life.

Really all the characters are far more nuanced and finely drawn than you would expect, and this really plays well with the whole theme of the movie, which is gently skewering the enforced conformity and subservience to the appearance of perfection that categorized the era. For instance, the Robinsons’ neighbor, Mr. Theopolis (played by Tim Blake Nelson) is introduced as though he’s going to be some kind of pervert or weirdo, as he dresses like Hugh Hefner by way of Hunter S. Thompson and keeps a young zombie woman in his house, who’s named Tammy and is obviously his girlfriend, but he ends up essentially being one of the heroes of the piece. Likewise, delicate shades of depth are revealed about each character as the story plays out, and even the aloof and comically detached Bill is shown to have his own issues that inform his behavior, and he also redeems himself admirably toward the end.

I also have to give particular mention to Billy Connolly here as Fido, who has zero lines of dialogue in the entire movie and yet still manages to convey a vast array of emotions using nothing but his rotting face and his stilted body movements. His toothy “smiles” are a particular highlight, hysterically funny and unsettling at the same time.

The cinematography in this is also beautiful, looking way more expensive than the film’s very modest budget would indicate; everything is colorful and slightly hyper-real, not quite as stylized as, say, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, but more along the lines of 2004’s Far From Heaven, or the more recent Mad Men TV series.

Though not quite as zany as Shaun of the Dead, I thought Fido was every bit as funny, though many of the best gags are slightly low-key (such as Life magazine now being called Death, a fact which is never pointed out overtly), and much of the humor comes from the very practical, nonchalant reactions the characters have to the situations they find themselves in. The whole movie works brilliantly as a satire, not only of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare, but also of the particular political climate at the time that it was made, and really of any overarching system of corporatism and conformity that marginalizes those who are different. That all sounds very deep, but Fido isn’t a polemic; at its best, it’s just a fun, humorous film with a lot of heart, whose underlying themes are there if you want to unpack them. I’m happy I (finally) got around to seeing this movie after all this time, as it really was a treat; I just hope that one day it’s able to garner the massive cult following that it so richly deserves.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s