Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies


By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 9 March 2016
Category: Reviews
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The addition of martial arts, sword wielding, gun fighting, and zombies to a Regency-era classic tale of manners and marriage turns a new film adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen's beloved novel, into a different kind of bodice ripper (har har).

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies has always been an intriguing concept but the execution has always been problematic. I read the book when it first came out (and, to be honest, it's the only Jane Austen book I've ever read, although I've seen many of the movie adaptations) and while amused by the concept and the ass kicking women I can't say that the book left much of an impression on me. It just felt as if something was lacking.

Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And ZombiesNow we have the movie of the book and I was hopeful that a different creative team would figure out what exactly it was that just wasn't quite right - and fix it. After all, the premise is fantastic - the humorous juxtaposition of zombies manifesting in an era in which everyone was incredibly polite and reserved and women needed to be demure and pleasant in order for them to be married off to wealthy suitors. They legally weren't allowed to inherit from their father's estate so they would have a big problem if they were still single when their fathers died - nowhere to live and no income to sustain them.

With zombies in the mix everyone suddenly has to be an action hero to survive in a world in which women are supposed to be at home sewing, which means weapons and martial-arts training for everyone in Japan (if you're wealthy and a training elitist) or China (if you're not and want the best actual education). Yet the pleasantries still remain so the divide is split between women who want a husband (whether for love or financial security) and women who realise there's no time for that nonsense because they need to remain focussed in order to stay alive and keep their loved ones safe. In many ways it's a far more equal society - until the inheritance problem inevitably manifests - which is quite refreshing and makes it all the more enjoyable to watch.

Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

The story follows along recognisable lines, with, in this case Colonel, Darcy (Sam Riley) meddling in the happiness of the eldest of the Bennet sisters, Jane (Bella Heathcote), and her wealthy suitor Mr Bingley (Douglas Booth) after misunderstanding her intentions towards Bingley, who is his best friend, while Darcy, in turn, falls for second-eldest sister Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), who has no interest in potential husbands and, additionally, finds him to be particularly disagreeable.

The Bennet sisters' cousin Parson Collins (well played by Matt Smith with much cringeworthiness, some obliviousness, and slight creepiness), who is first in line to inherit the estate of Mr Bennet (Charles Dance), shows up announcing his intention to marry one of the sisters, which becomes Elizabeth's problem because Jane is spoken for. Elizabeth refuses the proposal and instead becomes acquainted with George Wickham (Jack Huston), a military officer with a past that intersects controversially with Colonel Darcy's.

In between zombies cause mayhem and the characters violently have to deal with the menace as they politely sort out their romantic entanglements, internal prejudices, and each other's ulterior motives.

Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

I was expecting the star of the show to be Lena Headey playing a small but important role as Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who, in this incarnation, is a renowned zombie killer with much wealth and influence, but the character ends up being bland and Lena Headey can't save it. Instead it's Sally Phillips, a comedic actress (the Bridget Jones's Diary series, Smack The Pony) who was superbly cast as the mother of the Bennet sisters, who steals all the scenes she's in. There's a notable drop in the tone in parts of the film in which she does not feature.

It's quite clear she is having fun in the role but not in a way that many bad comedic actors have in which there's this self awareness that they're in a comedy that comes through in their acting and which has the effect of unintentionally breaking the fourth wall for the viewer. Sally Phillips doesn't cross that line. She has a rare ability to play moments straight but with a twinkle and a sense of timing that just brings out the comedy in a moment in which there sometimes wasn't even supposed to be humour to begin with. Her work in this film lifts the quality immeasurably. Additionally, because the zombie menace really does make this a very dark world, the film-makers rightly chose to have the rest of the actors play it straight, which added a great amount of impact to subtle interactions and very British throwaway moments caught by the camera that otherwise wouldn't have been funny.

Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

Two of the keys to the success of this kind of mashup is the production design and the weapons training that the actors need to receive. The production design is fantastic and I'm considering watching the movie a second time just to pay better attention to those details. The cinematographer (Remi Adefarasin) takes great delight in showing off the efforts in a subtle manner, with sweeping estate vistas that encompass ironwork fences featuring spikes meant to repel invaders (not unlike what permeates South African suburban living) and constant visual hints at everyone's adeptness with swords and guns, which is shown (unfortunately sometimes a bit lasciviously so) as feminine and sexy, in the case of the women, and not unfashionable, unladylike, and lacking etiquette.

Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
Above: These are not sound fighting stances nor does this demonstrate adept weapons handling.
The weapons training is another matter. I wish the actors (notably those playing the Bennet sisters) had been given better instruction in the handling of guns and swords and some more vigorous fighting training and fight-scene choreography (the hand-to-hand combat is better). The production notes say they were but most of it looks like something you'd see in an amateur theatre production and it's unfortunate because the quality of the film would have been improved immensely with more skilled and rehearsed action sequences. Only one comes close - a forceful sword battle between Darcy and Wickham in which the actors and stunt fighters really give it their all - but it's not enough to save the rest of the action, most of which is middling and disappointing.

Nevertheless the first half of the film still coalesces well and is a joy to watch but it loses its magic about halfway through and doesn't regain it except, for me, in a brief moment right at the end where Sally Phillips once again appears and delivers some lines that nearly had me on the floor due to how superbly it was done (although, having said that, I was the only person at the screening laughing at that point - to each his own).

Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

The ending, which only occurs after some of the credits have rolled, so a few of the journalists at the screening missed it, redeems the film to some degree but most of the second half really is a mess. There's a point (sadly right before Lena Headey shows up) where the pace is lost and the movie becomes laboured and dull. The humour disappears, the plot lines become unnecessarily convoluted and confusing, the problems with the actors' bad martial arts and weapons training become something that you can no longer dismiss, and time begins to slow as you experience boredom creeping in.

Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

A notable contributor to this problem is the editing, which is awful and seems to get worse as the movie progresses. The cuts are choppy and jarring in a lot of places and there was one section where I found myself mentally rearranging the sequence of events because by flipping two scenes around in my head it made the narrative, which also has problems, flow much more smoothly. The makeup effects are also surprisingly hit and miss. In some instances the zombie makeup is fantastic and in others it is so bad that I can state with confidence that I saw better work by amateurs participating in the 2015 Cape Town Zombie Walk. The prop effects are also problematic in that there are numerous times when a sword is used to cut down an opponent, only then to appear absolutely gore free and pristine.

Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

I wouldn't suggest that anyone not see this movie but just go knowing what to expect (and possibly when the tickets are half price) - something is still lacking. If, like me, you have been finding that most of the contemporary "comedies" are not particularly funny, or the jokes are crass and juvenile, you'll enjoy the more sophisticated, nuanced humour in this film and I think the tradeoff of having to sit through the dull second half is worth it.

Plus there's the cheap thrill of seeing prim Regency-era ladies holding their own with fists and fortitude (à la Jane Austen's Fight Club).

Film Review: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is written by Burr Steers, based on the 2009 parody novel by Seth Grahame-Smith that is based on the 1813 novel Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen, is directed by Burr Steers, and stars Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, Suki Waterhouse, Douglas Booth, Sally Phillips, Charles Dance, Jack Huston, Lena Headey, and Matt Smith.

The review screening was courtesy of Times Media Films.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies opened in various places worldwide in February 2016 and in South Africa on 4 March 2016 1 April 2016 (the release was pushed back).

Tags: #horror, #screen, #speculative_fiction, #zombies



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Rating: 6/10



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