Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Family Friendly Zombie Slaying
A Film Review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
The biggest challenge regarding a screening of this film is getting past the ridiculous mashup of a Jane Austen classic with a zombie survival story. Yes, the novelty of adding the zombie ingredient to any IP (let alone classic literature) could potentially inspire a relentless horde of patchwork adaptations to cash in on utter shamelessness: The Great Gatsby and zombies, Ulysses and zombies, A Farewell to Arms and zombies, The Grapes of Wrath and zombies. If however, you can delay your smirking for a moment and feel liberal enough with $10 you don’t quite know what to do with. you will find an attempt by director Burr Steers to turn an interesting premise for a Saturday Night Live skit into a compelling cinematic adventure. Based on the book written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also brought us the new “classic” Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), this story follows the Regency Period (not Victorian) tale of tumultuous romance amidst social complexities while living in a world where the undead not only exist, but training and preparation in dealing with them has become the norm.
The second challenge to the viewer is staying committed to this reinvented fictional world because the movie isn’t going to help you much in maintaining that suspension of disbelief. Like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter did before, so too does this film make no allusion towards parody. This story is trying to be as serious as possible minus the scenes specifically written for moments of levity. I suppose this is a good thing because zombie films that have taken the (ahem) graver approach have always been received, reviewed and performed better than their campy, gore-fest counterparts. Unfortunately, this film’s cinematography frequently fails at matching the serious tone in several scenes thus provoking eye-rolling dismissal in the audience’s mind. Having a heart to heart while dispatching still buried zombies as evidenced by hands clawing out of the ground like those seen at a fun house is a perfect example as the dialogue (performed as straight-faced as can be) is eclipsed by hokey hands. The sincerity and quality of the entire casts’ performance demands attention, yet the distraction of the imagery and absurdity of the circumstance instantly invalidates the drama.
The final challenge is simple: accepting a PG-13 zombie apocalypse. There’s no cursing, no sexuality, no depraved acts of human behavior, no gratuitous violence outside of light kung-fu and swordplay, very little gore and plenty of cutaways when zombies are eliminated the only way they can be: by removing the head or destroying the brain. For crying out loud, it’s starring British Cinderella (Lily James) who is reciting Jane Austen; can you possibly get any more vanilla? The upside is all those couples who met and fell in love during organized zombie walks now have a child-safe portal to introduce their children to the passion they share. The bad news is other than the use of zombie imagery, this film has no thematic tenants of a basic zombie film. The only “story” that matters is the shoehorned table scraps of Pride and Prejudice that remains principally concerned with marrying off all the Bennet daughters to wealthy husbands, putting mommy and daddy’s concerns for their welfare to rest – because their Shaolin kung-fu training alone wouldn’t be enough for them to see properly to their own welfare.
There is a surprising amount of martial arts combat as well as swordplay featured as basic survival tactics. They are well choreographed not merely for functionality, but for the style and mannerism of people from this era. It’s a shame there wasn’t more.
The DP’s approach to capturing the action is as traditional and static as that of a standard drama, so don’t expect sweeping panoramas, 360 bullet time shots or dynamic pulls and pushes.
Lily James brings a level of respectability with her performance in a production of such tongue-in-cheek magnitude. Her ability to sell dramatic moments as well as action intensity is uncanny, but perhaps her biggest challenge is pretending to be the slightly less attractive Bennet daughter, Elizabeth. Sam Riley produces a persona of Mr. Darcy that could easily be carbon copied onto a proper production of Pride and Prejudice. As with Ms. James, Mr. Riley produces a dignified performance despite the circumstances of the story.
The rest of the Bennet family is solid with Charles Dance as Mr. Bennet standing out. Lena Headey and Matt Smith provide some name recognition to this production yet their contributions come off as a bit vapid. Jack Huston is a decent villain as George Wickham whose performance is somewhat limited thanks to little screen time and a script not concerned with fleshing out all the details.
An overall average application of dramatic orchestration, but certainly nowhere near marquee.
As with the music, tolerable, but not handsome.
“Moving” = 19/33
Visual effects are exclusively limited to depicting zombie kill shots that aren’t completely cut away from and since these moments are also concerned with showing as little gore or blood as possible, they are too staccato to be appreciated.
Firearms, canon fire and explosions are all you get here. What is interesting is how various manors of the countryside are shown as having rather brutal looking mechanical fences ideal for chewing up the zombie horde. What isn’t interesting is how these are never shown doing what they were built for in the film.
It seems as if every British period piece brings its A-game regarding garb of the day. A more generous application of leather for certain characters seems adequately functional given the circumstances.
Hair & Makeup
All of our heroes look quite beautiful, but let’s face it; this category is about the zombies. While they aren’t quite in the same league as The Walking Dead TV show, the makeup work here is very impressive.
The historic leftovers in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Old Basing and Surrey were excellent locations displaying beautiful landscapes and mansions for this setting. Excellent location scouting.
The production staff was very up to the challenge regarding the set dressings of every scene. I was most impressed with the variety that was demonstrated between the domiciles of wealthy and middle classes as well as interiors that provoked a more horror aesthetic.
“Picture” = 21/33
The source material hooks the reader with romantic drama, the perils of social gossip, finding one’s place in society and reconciling it all with the individual’s desire to remain free-spirited. All of that is still a concern here, but takes a seat at the back of the bus seeing how zombies could pop out of anywhere to chew your face off. Cramming them into the same space subtracts intrigue from both worlds.
Yes, humans vs. zombies are obvious, but these zombies are much more intelligent than your garden variety, brainless cannibal. They represent a class not particularly well explored even in the source material: the poor. The film’s true conflict depicts a hierarchal class system where those with less economic means are more susceptible to zombification and it is the wealthy that are fearful of the sheer numbers advantage the non-rich continue to bolster. Hmm, this seems familiar given the state of Western politics today.
Things appear wrapped up in a neat romantic way, but then they aren’t thanks to a neglected subplot that reminds the audience this is still a major problem. Whoops!
The style and spirit of Jane Austen’s diction is all but perfectly channeled into this film, but it presents awkward difficulty given the circumstances of surviving zombies. How functional is speaking like a Shakespearean sonnet while decapitating monsters so you can save your own skin? The dialogue is very hit or miss as a result.
Stuffing zombies into a pre-existing plot is not for the whimsical. The rules of the story have been fundamentally altered, thus requiring a reconstruction of the source material’s major plot points to reflect this new reality. This film skirts the issue by throwing an informative title crawl to the audience in the beginning and expects that to be enough for us to hurdle the endless plot gaps that follow.
It appears that Elizabeth Bennet will always be a strong, female protagonist in any fiction she is reproduced and the fact she is now a kung-fu artist only makes her more interesting and heroic. George Wickham appears at first glance to present an earnest attempt at challenging the status quo. Perhaps if more time were devoted to developing his character, the audience would be better equipped to identify him as a tragic hero or a complex villain.
The presence of zombies has the ability to level the playing field in a fictional setting, though not completely. Thus, if the viewer can look beyond the wealth, who can’t identify with those dedicated to free individuality (Elizabeth), those dedicated to responsibility (Darcy) and those dedicated to themselves (Wickham)?
“Story” = 19/34
Overall MPS Rating: 59/100
Pride and Prejudice and Zombiesas an idea presents a unique opportunity to revisit the individual’s struggle to adapt to society with a contemporary spice to liven up the blandness of British history. As a film, this idea shows a fundamental weakness at the core of its literary skeleton; incapable of carrying the combined weight of superb performances and excellent production design. It’s as if the filmmakers presented a script of an episode of SpongeBob and were rewarded with a budget for the next Star Wars sequel. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.