“I would never relinquish my sword for a ring” “-for the right man you would” “The right man wouldn’t ask me too..”
In the 19th century, a mysterious plague turns the English countryside into a war zone. No one is safe as the dead come back to life to terrorize the land. Fate leads Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), a master of martial arts and weaponry, to join forces with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), a handsome but arrogant gentleman. Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy, but respects his skills as a zombie killer. Casting aside their personal differences, they unite on the blood-soaked battlefield to save their country.
I’m sure when Jane Austen first penned her pivotal and progressive novel Pride and Prejudice in 1813, she knew what would eventually become of it. She must have known that at some point, someone would remix her iconic words into a zombified mess of horror and blood, because it is just the obvious choice to turn a classic empowering romance into a satirical horror spinoff right? Well who cares what she thinks anyway! Seth Grahame-Smith sure didn’t when he wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which would eventually be mired in visual reality when Burr Steele turned it into the film currently in theaters. The mash up of genre’s would do well to take the classic romance and veil it with brain eating undead. So what would come of this feat? Would the film be a spoof of the classic version? Would it be a straight comedy? Would It be a straight horror film? Well the answer to that question is not so simple.
The question of the hour is just how much Pride and Prejudice is really in the film, and the short answer is, a whole lot. In fact it’s actually a quite faithful adaptation of the novel and riffs the entire film, say for a few added scenes, and the reimagining of others. There is little questioning that this is still the Austin novel at it’s core. The film’s set up is actually quite smooth, allowing for some faint exposition to brief the audience on the world they are now residing in. It’s not over done and is straight to the point, we given glimpses of our new and improved Darcy, the warrior on a crusade against the undead, we are also provided with backdrop for the zombies and what their makeup is in this universe. The fact is, the zombies are actually melded quite well with the aristocracy of Austen’s world. The clever mashup is derivative at times, and there are numerous moments of unfit levity, but the film is no spoof movie. It’s also not a dramatic horror action either, it has difficulty finding it’s footing at times, but ultimately, it is shockingly entertaining throughout.
Managing expectations is key when entering a film of this caliber. If you walk into the theater expecting the very same magic of Joe Wright’s adaptation, then you will walk out disappointed, but if you go in expecting a mind numbing, action centric and satirical take on Austen’s classic tale, then you will be pleasantly surprised. This is no grand shakespearean overture, but it is does have some real entertainment value behind it’s quirkiness. The film has far too much CGI and is greatly hindered by it’s PG-13 rating, but still it manages to produce a coherently stable version of the best selling novel by Grahame-Smith. Cinematically the film is quite interesting, with noticeable lens transitions that cue the audience when the film has shifted in tone, which was a little on the nose, but somehow works well given the material. The film has some pacing issues, but it still does well to find balance between its source material, and its additions.
What is potentially the most shocking are the performances. The movie is extremely well served by its cast, and is hoisted above its reach as a result. Lily James is inspired casting as Elizabeth Bennett, and against all odds pulls off an incredible performance, managing to bring the sensibilities of the character from the classic text, and remain believably badass just the same. Sam Riley is also a quite serviceable Darcy, and his gruff stoic nature is more suited to this version of the character, which manages to be solidly charismatic. The man who steals the show however is Matt Smith. The Dr. Who alum is easily the best part of the film, and has genius level comedic timing on his side. From the moment Smith enters frame, he steals focus from all others who try to oppose him. The Rest of the cast is certainly entertaining in their own right, and they find a way to properly service their characters. Jack Huston is incredibly charming, as he usually is, but is also still quite menacing, and is perhaps the most complex character of the bunch. This is not necessarily a film that would garner attention for its performances, and yet it’s just those that elevate the film far beyond it’s low expectations, and makes it as entertaining as it is.
There is no mistaking the many grand flaws that surround Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The fact remains that this is a feature length version of a cultural and genre mashup that may have better suited for the small screen. The film can be flat footed and misguided at times, with moments of boorish dullness filling some of the gaps. The pacing is not what you would call traditionally smooth by any means. The visuals are gimmicky and overwrought with digital enhancements. It can be moderately superficial in critical moments. It’s not the most self aware film in recent memory. There is a certain inane sense of novelty that will wear thin on some. Finally, the PG-13 rating waters down the content enough to make it less than satisfying to horror junkies. Even with it’s myriad of relative flaws, Pride Prejudice and Zombies finds a way to be wholly entertaining. The cast plays the film devilishly straight which adds to the spectacular absurdity. The film is dumb fun, completely overwrought with cliche and predictability, but also, it is plumb entertaining.
3/5 Not Bad Bro