Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Jane Austen's classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge -- an army of undead zombies.
February 5, 2016
Lily James as Elizabeth
Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy
Jack Huston as George Wickham
Let’s just all be real with ourselves and admit that zombie movies are a dime a dozen these days. Occasionally we get a stunning gem, but more often than not we take in mediocre work. Very rarely do subgenre efforts slide into that grey area, where some things are great and some just don’t work. That’s the name of the game. It’s also the reason I went into my Pride and Prejudice and Zombies screening with a little uncertainty. Could the film surpass expectation and join the ranks of real winners like Zombieland and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, or would the film flat-line and fail to leave an impression?
The truth lies somewhere in the in between, in that place that houses so few undead flicks.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is no doubt a solid film. But, it didn’t quite steal my breath. The film, which places Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy under the microscope (we’re going to avoid an intricate plot outline, as we’ll end up doing little other than spoiling the details of the film’s twists), juggles romance, violence and sociopolitical views. It’s a strange but effective combination, and the fact that it works to any degree is a victory for the film, as well as Burr Steers – who directs – and Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote the novel in which the film is based. While victorious in making such an absurd blend function smoothly, the film isn’t without its faults.
On screen the sexual tension that fills the room every time it’s occupied by both Darcy and Elizabeth isn’t quite as pronounced as it could be, or as it is in the novel. Grahame-Smith’s book makes this a very focal piece of the story, with essentially every other detail working directly from the bitter love the two share. And that’s brilliant; it can’t be easy to build a zombie tale on a fresh romance for a foundation. The issue here, in regards to the film, is that the connection between these two doesn’t have quite the same impact. Even having said this, I fully admit that the issues between these two is evident. And, to their credit, both Lily James (Elizabeth) and Sam Riley (Darcy) do solid work of creating some rigidity between the characters.
In fact, moving on to the cast as a whole, this a successful bunch. Bella Heathcote does a fine job with the character of Jane; Douglas Booth is perfectly vulnerable as Mr. Bingley; and Sally Phillips is pitch-perfect as Mrs. Bennet. Charles Dance and Lena Headey make appearances in the film, but both of their characters go malnourished, essentially filling small holes while bringing nothing more to the picture. That’s a bit of a bummer, especially in the case of Dance’s character, who is a genius with flat, ruthless humor in the novel, but hardly speaks a handful of sentences in the picture. All in all, whether Dance and Headey were utilized to the best of their abilities or not (they really weren’t), you can’t scoff at this lineup.
A major concern I personally held, was the worry of CGI overkill. Perhaps I’m still stuck thinking too heavily about the last Grahame-Smith novel to be adapted for film, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, as some form of a comparison piece to give the film a fair shake. But I should have, as this one is surprisingly controlled, Steers never drowning us with cheesy or unbelievable imagery. And the makeup effects we see on the unmentionables is pretty damn gnarly. A few of the film’s beasts look rather intimidating, and the close-up shots summon a shudder or two. If there’s any problem related to the special effects themselves, it’s that we actually don’t get enough of them. A lot of the moments that would potentially feature graphic shots take place off screen. That’s a result of the PG-13 rating, which admittedly seems unnecessary in this instance. We’re talking about a zombie movie here, let the hard-R tactics fly.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an impressive studio release. We could benefit from more films as well-assembled as this earning wide theatrical release. Just popping up in a few thousand cinemas is a W for the genre, but we often see commercial arrivals fall flat on their face (typing this sentence the first film to pop into my head was the recently released Poltergeist remake), their position on the release scale their only point of success. This isn’t one of those movies. It’s entertaining, and although it runs a bit longer than I’d personally prefer, it’s impressive enough to hold your attention and birth a few good laughs. Would we give Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a recommendation? Absolutely – this is a historical spectacle that deserves a chance to impress every genre fan out there.