Hot Fuzz came out in spring 2007, nearly half my lifetime ago. And looking back that seems like the right age to have experienced it. It’s the kind of R-rated comedy that’s exactly right for a teenager. Its self-referential humor challenges your budding intelligence to keep up with its cleverness. But it is also never above exploding a man’s head for laughs. Hot Fuzz is a cut above, say, 2010’s The Other Guys, a wonderfully entertaining buddy cop satire in its own right.
Like the other two films in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, Hot Fuzz has a social critique buried deep beneath a mix of juvenile and intellectual humor. It’s a movie about small town busybodies murdering anyone who didn’t fit in their rural utopia. The narrative resonated with me as a not-quite-yet-openly gay teenager who understood erasure all too well. Even back then I knew I wouldn’t have survived Sandford.
If you’re not like me and didn’t spend the rest of 2007 watching clips of Hot Fuzz on this fancy new thing called YouTube, I’ll recap the plot. Simon Pegg plays the unsubtly named Sergeant Nicholas Angel. He’s a London police officer whose hyper-competence gets him exiled to Sandford, a picturesque village in the English countryside. There is so little crime that Angel spends his days with his partner, Nick Frost’s Danny Butterman, chasing after the town swan. However, when several people turn up dead in highly suspect “accidents,” Angel doggedly pursues the obvious perpetrator. He uncovers a more elaborate conspiracy, discovering Sandford’s Neighbourhood Watch Alliance (NWA) is responsible for the murders.
This group of seemingly hospitable village elders are actually a fanatical cult of murderous perfectionists. And they quietly kill anyone who interferes with their aim to make Sandford the “idyllic” (read: “conforming”) country village they want to live in. Eventually our heroes manage to nonlethally dispatch (most) of the NWA and save the day. (Also, future Oscar-winner Olivia Colman’s whole character is about one minute of sexual double-entendres.) There’s room for a sequel, but I’ll save that argument for another anniversary.
So there’s gunplay, a blend of smart and dumb comedy, and some above-the-cut filmmaking from Edgar Wright. All that would, on its own, make this an ideal movie for a 2007 teenager who didn’t realize yet that having a Pulp Fiction poster was a cliché. However, as a still mostly in-the-closet gayby, the images of the NWA’s dust-covered teenage victims who died for drunk and disorderly conduct haunted me. Angel finds the corpses of victims in a church’s underground catacombs the audience hadn’t seen yet. There’s his predecessor, a shoplifter, some unfortunate unhoused people, for some reason jugglers, and a few other “undesirable” residents. The kids, though, were the same ones Angel rounded up earlier for the aforementioned (and not serious) crimes. If that could die for that surely I wouldn’t make it for having a crush on Maxxie from Skins.
Erasure is truly real central theme of this movie that resonates with me. The NWA gets pretty close to it by sweeping their problems under the metaphorical rug of their church. And the thought is really chilling. The humor of the film’s climax relies on how mundane all of the antagonists are on the surface. They act like the generic Hollywood action movie goons typically played by stuntmen. But they’re actually elderly people: a school headmistress, a shopkeeper, a priest, a doctor, some grocery store clerks, and a retired James Bond with a wicked ‘stache. Their implausibility as well as their familiarity draws laughs as well as real parallels.
These are the type of people we expect to serve in key roles in our community, and we often write off their prudishness as an expected quirk. I’m not British and I didn’t grow up in the English countryside; however, I am very familiar with these archetypes and their American equivalents. Even when you’re young, you still notice how quickly friendly faces turn unfriendly when they talk about “outsiders.”
It’s not so much a fear of them murdering you. But instead you know they’d be happy if you just weren’t there—a very familiar reality for the LGBTQ+ community. Conform or vanish, the movie’s villains seem to say, is indeed a real-world refrain. This is where we find the richness of the protagonist’s central arc. I wouldn’t declare Nicholas Angel a queer icon, per se. But the film stresses he can’t hold down a meaningful relationship because he’s “too dedicated” to his job. And that Edgar Wright very deliberately films a lot of scenes developing Nicholas and Danny’s “bromance” in jokingly suggestive terms. All that aside, Angel finds himself being erased before he even gets to Sandford.
He does not do anything wrong, but that in itself makes him wrong and worth erasing. Like a farcical Javert he follows a rigid set of rules that makes him an anomaly who cannot fit in. He finds himself on the outs for the same reason in Sandford, only redeemed by Danny’s benevolently persistent friendship. Danny admires Nicholas and insists on helping him develop as a human being rather than just an instrument of the law. What Nicholas Angel finds from self-searching is that he is not really an enforcer. Instead, he’s a natural detective, a title he technically never holds in the movie. And he is a protector of the innocent, the erased, and the “undesirables.”
There’s a triumphal moment at the end of the movie when Angel rides into town on a horse with weapons and ready to face down the nefarious Neighbourhood Watch. It’s a Wild West scene set in Olde England, and it’s fantastically badass. The scene means more, though, when you know you need to do something similar for marginalized people. Overall, Hot Fuzz is a great movie about a good person pushing back against those who erase the “others” and insist that the community belongs to all.
I’m not saying this film made me come out, but I do think watching it made coming out easier. In some ways, being out today doesn’t feel quite as much as an act of defiance as it did when I first made my own little stand back in 2007. I feel like I’ve been living in the end of this movie ever since. But, during a recent rewatch, I surprisingly felt a twinge of tangible anxiety even though I’ve seen it 100 times before. It made me a little nostalgic for those uncertain teenage years, and I was reminded that there are still plenty of yet undefeated NWA folk in the real world who would want me out of the village. But hey, it’s not their village anymore.