The 1950s have long been a shorthand for conformity and maintaining conventions at all costs. Just as the twenties have come to symbolize opulence and the sixties youthful rebellion, in America’s collective memory, the fifties are all about those white picket fences and Levittown-esque suburbs. From Pleasantville to Edward Scissorhands, the fifties setting is a perfect place for some subversive fun.
In Fido (2006), Helen Robinson, played by the magnificent Carrie-Anne Moss, is mortified that her family is the only one in the neighborhood that doesn’t own a zombie. After a wave of radiation encircled the globe and brought the dead back to life, humans waged the “Zombie Wars” to take back control of the planet. Using collars that render zombies docile and subservient, the ever-present conglomerate Zomcon has turned the remaining undead into a desirable commodity and has encouraged their use as servants, butlers, and housemaids. Because her husband Bill (Dylan Baker) is terrified of zombies, Helen goes behind his back and purchases one, hoping that he’ll grow to accept this new addition in time. Immediately, their lonely, bullied son Timmy Robinson (K’Sun Ray) befriends the zombie and names him “Fido.” The next day, Fido, played by a hilarious Billy Connolly, breaks loose from his calming collar and starts chowing down on Mrs. Henderson, the elderly town gossip. When she becomes a zombie and starts assailing her neighbors, the quiet suburb faces a minor zombie outbreak. However, this story serves as a side plot. The film’s main focus is on how the Robinson family adapts to their newest undead member and how Fido grows to care for his new family. As Fido acts less like a bloodthirsty monster, dancing with Helen and rescuing Timmy in a manner reminiscent of Lassie, we are forced to consider whether the dead have truly lost their humanity.
Fido is an inherently subversive movie. In recent years, zombies have been one of the most overused movie and video game monsters, and at their most trite, they are an excuse to endlessly massacre bodies without having to consider the messy morality inherent in shooting actual humans. By domesticating and commodifying zombies, Fido brings a fresh take to the genre. In the opening scenes, by establishing the story of a pitiful, bullied boy, Fido seems to be setting up a heartwarming film about a boy and his (zombie) dog, but this plot is subverted when Fido almost immediately breaks loose and gnaws on Mrs. Henderson. One of the film’s best subversions and surprises is in the character of Helen Robinson. Initially Helen seems like a throwaway side character; she barely looks up from her baking when her son mentions how he was nearly killed by a bully and cares most about keeping up with the Joneses. But over the course of the film, she begins to have feelings for the new zombie man around the house, sasses her husband, who seems to care more about golf and paying for funerals than the fact she’s pregnant with their baby, and helps her son cover up a murder. Watching her growth over the course of the film is gleeful fun.
While dystopias are often subversive, Fido also manages to subvert the typical dystopia. In the world of Fido, Zomcon owns everything, assumes all government functions, controls the media, and banishes those who disobey to a zombie filled wilderness, which is tantamount to execution. The dystopian corporatocracy plays out in the background, but nobody seems particularly concerned by it. Although the characters manipulate the system, nobody topples the regime, and nothing really changes. The corporation is forgiven for outright negligence that leads to countless deaths because its services and products are useful and ingrained in everyday life. While most evil corporations and governments in dystopian films go too far and inspire resentment and rebellion, Fido shows how an institution is most dangerous when people are so caught up by its fantastic achievements that they refuse to hold it accountable for its abuse of power.
Overall, Fido is a hilarious, thought-provoking film with excellent performances—a perfect way to add variety to a zombie movie night.