Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic
Ah, the Fifties, a psychologically fascinating time. WWII is over and there is money and happiness to go around. In FIDO, WWII has been replaced by “The Z War,” but the result is the same. After almost a decade of living with their consciousness stuffed full of worry and death and horror, the American people focus on happy thoughts and hide away anything that makes them uncomfortable. Life is about presentation. How you look to your neighbors means absolutely everything.
FIDO opens with a very Fifties-looking Public Service Announcement (PSA) detailing the meteor that re-animated all the Earth’s corpses and spurred the Zombie War. We learn about Dr. Reinhold Geiger, who discovered that if you destroyed the brain, you destroyed the zombie. Dr. Geiger then invented a suppression collar that would stifle a zombie’s urge to eat living flesh. This miraculous invention, now manufactured and maintained through the wonders of Zomcon, ensured that every family in America could have their own zombie to handle household chores. Now everyone can be a productive member of society, even after they’re dead.
As the PSA finishes, a very Fifties-looking schoolteacher steps into the shot smiling beatifically. Her class beams at her while she introduces the new head of Zomcon security, Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czerney, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, 2005 and THE A-TEAM, 2010). He gives an exhilarating but condescending speech about the importance of Zomcon. His visit is marred by Timmy (K’Sun Ray, in his first major role) the only distrustful-looking kid in the class, who asks questions that beg answers beyond the pretty rhetoric designed to numb society into obedience.
When Timmy returns home, he discovers his Mom (Carrie-Anne Moss, THE MATRIX movies and 2007’s DISTURBIA) has gotten them a zombie. When Timmy’s Dad (Dylan Baker, HIDE AND SEEK, 2005 and TRICK ‘R TREAT, 2007) comes home, we learn that he is terrified of zombies and is mortified that his wife would so blatantly defy his wishes. Dad is working like crazy to earn enough money to pay the exorbitant price of a decapitation and funeral for each member of his family. Mom has to agree to keep the zombie chained up in the backyard when it’s not doing chores before Dad agrees to keep it for a trial period.
Timmy names the zombie Fido (Billy Connolly, THE BOONDOCK SAINTS, 1999 and the upcoming HOBBIT movies, 2012 & 2013), and takes him to the park to play. Fido’s collar breaks and he kills their neighbor Mrs. Henderson. The collar kicks back in, revealing an intermittent short, but the damage is done. Timmy is well-versed in making things look “perfect” when bad things happen, so he buries Mrs. Henderson in the park and brings Fido home to clean him up.
Of course, Mrs. Henderson doesn’t stay dead, and soon there is a full-on zombie incident in town. Timmy continues to hide the truth while Mr. Bottoms and his Zomcon Security Force work to contain the outbreak. This is complicated by the fact that Mr. Bottoms has moved his family into the house next door, and Timmy’s Mom is getting friendly with Mrs. Bottoms, the way a good neighbor should.
The first kudos for this film go to the writing. Setting the story during this time period was a brilliant decision. In a world where even rotting corpses shambling around in broad daylight can be made to “look” normal, it spotlights the differences between how things are made to look and how things actually are. Some of the more horrific moments come from the living people refusing to deal with problems and inconveniences. When Timmy comes home with a torn shirt, Mom tells him: “Clean up, put on a new shirt, and we won’t even have to talk about those bullies.” When she finds him bouncing a ball against the house, she says: “Please don’t play baseball by yourself. It makes you look lonely.” When the zombie knocks over a shelf in the garage, she worries that Dad will send the zombie away. “Then people are gonna say that the Robinsons are strange, and they’ll be right!”
The performances are all top shelf. K’Sun Ray does a convincing job making you believe he’s the only person in town who’s in tune with how things actually work. Carrie-Anne Moss is excellent in her role, always trying to forge familial happiness in situations where everything is out of balance. You even feel sorry for Dylan Baker’s character as he struggles to maintain his role as the head of the household, while it seems that Fido is slowly usurping his place.
Casting Billy Connelly as Fido was also an excellent choice. Everyone else in the film bears the look of the fifties. None of them would seem out of place in the old TV show LASSIE (which gets lampooned in one hysterical scene– the boy’s name is Timmy, after all), or in any of the paintings of Norman Rockwell. Connelly doesn’t fit that mold in any sense, and every time he is on screen it heightens the feeling that something is out of place.
For some reason, FIDO didn’t catch on like it deserved to. Maybe because it was a period piece, maybe because it came during a flurry of zombie comedies trying to make a buck in the wake of 2004’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD. It wasn’t terribly well distributed, either. I can remember hitting both Hollywood Video and Blockbuster on release day and finding it unavailable.
Period piece or not, FIDO deserves another chance to catch the public’s attention. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out soon. After all, what are your neighbors going to say when they find out you haven’t seen it?
This one is a solid four stars, with a single time out.
© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon