The rom-zom-com–the romantic zombie comedy–spearheaded by “Shaun of the Dead” continues to build momentum with “Fido,” a candy-colored satire of the “Leave It to Beaver” Fifties, in which the Eisenhower era is reimagined as a macabre world populated by the living dead. Writer-director Andrew Currie demonstrates equal affection for George A. Romero and “Lassie,” and he mates these cultural opposites with a clever premise, which, before eventually running out of steam, offers some genuinely ingenious delights.
The Canadian coproduced “Fido” opens with an industrial education film explaining the dangers of zombies to a classroom of grammar-school children. A number of years earlier a cloud of radiation turned corpses into somnambulant flesh eaters, and humankind has combated the crisis with war and then domestication of zombies into defanged servants. The Robinsons–milquetoast husband Bill (a perfectly cast Dylan Baker), frustrated wife Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss), and pin-cushion young son Timmy (K’Sun Ray)–live in an immaculate Anytown, USA, where zombies work as milkmen, paper boys, gardeners, and, in the case of perverse neighbor Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson), sexual playthings. It’s an alternate history in which the by-now classic metaphor for the unspoken fear lurking beneath the repressed behavior of Fifties mainstream society exists very much out in the open. Currie also uses the idea to mock materialistic conformity, as when the appearance-obsessed Helen purchases a zombie servant, whom Timmy treats lovingly as a pet and comes to call Fido (Billy Connolly), to keep up with the Joneses–in this case the Bottomses, who own six such undead slaves. This social commentary is, of course, nothing new–instead, the unfortunately titled “Fido” (an American International Pictures attention-grabber like “I Loved My Zombie Slave” would have worked better) makes its mark with a Sirk du soleil production design of saturated primary colors and witty details (check out Timmy’s Zombie War bed sheets and pillowcase) that inflicts satiric damage on our strained desire to affect normalcy.
At the same time, “Fido” misses some other golden opportunities for irreverent commentary. The servant becomes a surrogate father to lonely Timmy, their bond strengthening even as Fido kills some friendly townsfolk (most of whom, by the film’s logic, deserve it). More human than zombie-hating Bill, Fido melts Helen’s heart, and for a while it looks as if a transgressive relationship will form between the two. Unfortunately, a zombie-human romance never materializes, and instead the thread involving Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czerny), the head of quasi-totalitarian zombie domestication company Zomcon, and his evil machinations to “contain” Fido, play without the same acidity that fuels the film’s first two-thirds. And yet, despite the precipitous drop-off in black humor (especially the assault on the ineffectual nuclear family), “Fido” is a rare achievement, finding new ways to spoof the iconic, sunny Fifties, as well as further exploring the possibilities of a genuine lightness attainable in zombiedom.