Sunday, February 7, 2016

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Image courtesy of Screen Gems.
A film with a title such as "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is likely to leave a moviegoer with one of two impressions: a really bad idea or something so silly that embraces its ludicrousness and entertains on either the level of camp or sheer goofiness. Alas, the film falls more into the first camp, with the added surprise of being a completely serious take on Jane Austen's classic novel with violent action sequences strewn in between the familiar scenes from the book.

In other words, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is not particularly funny or even that goofy, aside from its concept. Based on the novel by Austen and the Seth Grahame-Smith adaptation, the picture follows "Pride and Prejudice" fairly closely in terms of Elizabeth Bennet's (Lily James) relationship with her sisters and parents as well as burgeoning romance with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), whom she, at first, naturally despises.

All the while, England has been overrun by the undead following a plague and, therefore, Bennet, Darcy and all the other familiar figures from Austen's classic are also trained in combat and spend at least some portions of the picture slicing off zombie heads or shooting them in the cranium, causing massive explosions of brain matter to go flying everywhere.

One of the major faults of the film - and, I assume, Grahame-Smith book, although I haven't read it - is how we are supposed to listen to Bennet, her sisters and other characters describe their training in either Japanese or Shaolin martial arts with a straight face and actually take all this seriously.

Another problem is that the zombie attacks seemingly occur out of nowhere and, as a result, occasionally feel muddled. Also, the zombies in the film appear more intelligent than those in George Romero's far more effective "living dead" pictures. Some of them can speak and reason with the living and, in many instances, use their wits to sneak into places that the brain-dead would not likely be able to access. And, seemingly, the only reason this occurs is because the plot requires it to do so.

I'm not going to rehash the plot of Austen's novel here, but suffice it to say that some characters have modifications. As I'd mentioned, nearly all of the characters are trained in the art of warfare, but the snooty Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Lena Headey) is also a master warrior, while George Wickham (Jack Huston) is not only a cad, but also possibly a treasonous enabler of the undead.

The main problem with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is that the filmmakers - which include director Burr Steers, who was responsible for "Igby Goes Down," a film I liked - don't seem to realize that the material they have is absurd and should, therefore, be handled with a light touch. This could have been a fun movie, if it weren't such a deadly serious one. Hopefully, the inevitable adaptation of "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" will allow itself to be fun. Better yet, maybe just leave that one on the page.

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