Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Reginald, fetch me my hatchet! I wish to slay this swarm of undead regency swine. Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston and Bella Heathcote star in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesCast of Characters:
Elizabeth Bennet – Lily James
Col. Fitzwilliam Darcy – Sam Riley
George Wickham – Jack Huston
Jane Bennet – Bella Heathcote
Charles Bingley – Douglas Booth
William Collins – Matt Smith
Mr. Bennet – Charles Dance
Lady Catherine de Bourgh – Lena Headey

Director – Burr Steers
Screenplay – Burr Steers
Based on the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith
Producer – Marc Butan, Sean McKittrick, Brian Oliver, Natalie Portman, Annette Savitch, Allison Shearmur & Tyler Thompson
Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material

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In 19th century England, the reigning conflict is not class warfare, but a zombie outbreak that has overtaken the land. Never fear, though, ’cause Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance), the patriarch of the Bennet clan, has sent his five daughters – Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber) and Mary (Millie Brady) – to China to learn the ancient art of Shaolin zombie ass-kicking. Meanwhile, his wife, Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) is concerned over more urgent priorities such as making sure her daughters are married off to the right suitor.

As the outbreak intensifies, Elizabeth must put aside her disdain for the arrogant zombie slayer Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) – a feeling spurred on by the rival for her affections, George Wickham (Jack Huston) – and join forces to take down the undead.

Upon hearing of a big screen version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was intrigued by such a kooky premise until I found out that it’s from the Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which makes total sense). My concerns weren’t exactly over his novels; in fact, from what I’ve been told from friends of mine whose tastes I tend to trust, the presidential vampire slaying tale is a lot more cleverly written than people might give it credit for. No, my concern were over Vampire Hunter’s film adaptation (also written by Grahame-Smith) which couldn’t even match paint drying for excitement.

Thankfully, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies contains more spark than its fellow Abraham Lincoln mashup, though that’s not hard to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite entirely live up to the potential in its premise.

This is a case of low expectations being exceeded that ultimately still lead to a disappointing film. How is that possible? Well, since your expectations have been met and then some, you start to expect a little more from the film, but wind up not getting much back.

Horror-comedies aren’t as easy to make as you might think. It’s not just be funny and call it good. The director, here Burr Steers who also wrote the script, has to have a strong grasp of how funny, how scary and how violent they want the film to be. Steers manages to get the humor mostly right, providing a deadpan matter-of-fact style that fits Jane Austen’s regency setting nicely. No doubt, Austen herself never envisioned the Bennet sisters discussing potential romantic suitors as they cleaned their zombie-slaying weaponry, but the joke works ’cause Steers and his cast treat the moment with as much as prim and proper delivery as a straightforward Pride and Prejudice adaptation.

Where things begin to lose their luster is in the horror department. Sure, Steers supplies enough zombie heads being lopped off and blasted away, but for the most part, the action is fairly flat. If only Steers put the same amount of time and energy into creating action setpieces with a bit of life to them as he did into the top-notch period design (forget Bennet and Darcy, Lily James and costume designer Julian Day are the true match made in heaven). Also, much is made of the rival training backgrounds – the frugal being trained in a Chinese Shaolin temple and for the wealthy, Japanese Ninjas – but very little detail is given to either background, which could’ve added some extra flavor to the class distinctions.

So then where does that extra spark come from? Well, that would be the cast, all of whom (Lena Heady, Jack Huston, Charles Dance and smugly silly turn by Dr. Who’s Matt Smith as the pompous William Collins) perform with a level of commitment that you might not expect in a regency zombie parody. The fetching Lily James and the gravelly-voiced Sam Riley have strong chemistry together, and their fitting presences for the period (James was an inspired choice for Kenneth Branagh’s live-action Cinderella last year) makes them perfect choices for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, even in a zombie-less version of Austen’s novel, which if we’re counting, has already been done about a billion times.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does manage to create some moments of fun out of its crazy premise, and the attractive cast is more than game for such craziness. But even though it’s certainly not as much of a total misfire as the similarly bonkers Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, this Jane Austen parody still, just slightly, misses the mark as it’s tamed by a PG-13 rating that hampers it from going totally all-out, which you’d expect from a mashup between the Austen literary classic and brains and guts munching monsters.

I give Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a C+ (★★½ ).


2/8/16          What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
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2/13/16        Zoolander No. 2

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