Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, 2016.
Written and Directed by Burr Steers.
Starring Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, Suki Waterhouse, Sally Phillips, Charles Dance, and Lena Headey.
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.
Slow motion takes over as the Bennet sisters begin unsheathing various types of blades hidden underneath their elaborate Victorian-era appropriate garments (in what is a rather titillating shot), but most crucially, seems to promise that the ludicrous movie titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will live up to the level of absurd, stupid entertainment promised. That one quick scene offers essentially everything one could want coming into something so ridiculous; beautiful women dressed to kill that know their way around daggers and swords, and are ready to mutilate some zombies while dealing with socioeconomic struggles and the turmoil of being a woman.
And then the five sisters began strolling down a hallway, slicing and dicing while racking up kills of these flesh-eating beings, which should be fun, but isn’t. First of all, there is constant quick-cut editing employed throughout all of the battle sequences (although shockingly there aren’t too many action sequences which is unforgivable considering the material on-hand) done to make the violence come across more graphic than the tame, watered down PG-13 crap it is. It’s also just horrible directing that leaves the deadly mayhem chaotic to the point where it is indecipherable who is swinging at who or who is having their limbs chopped off.
Even so, everything about the violence seems dialed back in style, all in favor of portraying the proceedings grounded in some semblance of reality. Naturally, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is based on of the classic Jane Austen novel, but there is also additional material being adapted from Seth Grahame-Smith’s take on the original story, which is also where the zombies come in. Smith also penned the novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which was also adapted for the silver screen, but more to the point, it was an insufferable boring chore to watch that embraced literally nothing about its inherent zaniness. It actually felt like watching a biography on Abraham Lincoln at times; that’s how little vampire hunting was featured. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies suffers from a similar fate but nowhere near as strongly. Instead, it just assumes that the overall narrative could work with the zombies as a mere afterthought on many situations.
For this all to work, it also has to be accessible to viewers that don’t give a damn about the original Pride and Prejudice (sue me, I’m too busy reading comic books or fantasy novels), but could come to understand the themes presented in the original story, all with zombies running amok London. The problem is that there are far too many characters and brewing relationships, meaning it’s tough to truly invest in one singular plight. The movie is only 100 minutes long too, so factoring in the enormous amount of content from the novel with added in zombie shenanigans, and you have the film cramming far too much in. Even veteran actors like Charles Dance and Lena Headey are here with very little to do, and make no impact whatsoever outside of delivering the serviceable performances you would expect.
The most entertainment I got from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was watching Matt Smith channel his Doctor Who personality as a whimsical goofball, which obviously isn’t a very good thing considering that it’s a movie about gorgeous women fighting zombies. There’s a brief moment when Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy begin arguing and lightheartedly brawling to an extent (using dialogue from the actual novel), and it’s a scene that actually works, injecting humor and charm to the relationship. Unfortunately, most of the movie is just a bunch of boring, serious babbling that fails to resonate. It’s also worth noting that Sam Riley does a great job at putting a spin on Mr. Darcy as a chap obsessed with killing zombies; he also has raspy, intimidating voice and a distinct look to at least make him stand out in a sea of rather bland personalities.
The good news is that no one can really say that, as far as costume and production design goes Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t easy on the eyes. Many of the dresses exude vibrant colors, there are tricky staged ballroom dance sequences that feature interesting cinematography tracking the tapping of characters’ feet, and a few refreshing touches to the overall zombie designs. Disappointingly, it’s not a very bloody movie, and pretty much everything looks nice except the action, but it’s not fair to say that the film overall doesn’t look nice.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies most certainly deserves points for originality, but nothing here is really going to stick or entertain. Despite that, the promises of a sequel actually excite me for two reasons: the first being that it is clear that a great degree of care and thought went into setting up this world (the opening credits are a hefty exposition dump explaining how things came to be), and also the fact that with the traditional story out-of-the-way and told, there is more freedom to get a little crazy with delivering ridiculous fun. The crippling flaw is that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should have been much more ludicrous all along instead of biding its time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★