We interrupt your regularly scheduled post with a review! I’m a rather rabid Jane Austen fan, and so when I heard that a film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s kooky Austen rewrite Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was in the works, I was eager to see it.
It’s an occasionally fun but wildly uneven movie that can’t quite reconcile the disparate tones and plots in a way that is satisfying. When it’s funny, it’s VERY funny, but when it tries to be serious, you spend the whole time waiting for the punchline, only to discover, “Oh, they’re being serious.” On top of that, there are a number of plots which are just never explained or mentioned again, even though they seem to be important at first. The best way to describe this movie would be to say that it’s a marvelous Pride and Prejudice that just happens to include zombies.
The plot is somewhat familiar. Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James) is a charming intelligent girl in mid 19th century England whose hobbies enjoy reading, combat training, and decapitation. She meets the dour Mr. (excuse me) Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley) at a party and his brusque manner rather offends her. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bennett (Sally Phillips) is desperate to get her daughter Jane (Bella Heathcote) engaged to the dashing Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth).
Oh yes, and zombies are taking over England and things are going dreadfully. Darcy is fighting on the front lines (when he’s not offending people at parties) to protect London, which is now a walled-in fortress, and the Bennett sisters, all pragmatically (though unfashionably) trained in the Chinese martial arts, work to protect their parents and assorted party-goers with a bevy of knives, swords, and flintlock pistols.
The premise is completely delightful, and for most of the film, the execution is done well, but apparently things were just too cray to hold together, and it rapidly spirals out of control in the third act, which is a shame because it was fun while it lasted.
The cast is fairly well-assembled, with Elizabeth and Darcy getting the most character development. Lily James handles being both strong and vulnerable very well. Her chemistry with her sisters is the most genuine part of the whole film, especially when they’re training or tussling. I was also rather charmed by Matt Smith’s awkward Mr. Collins, who easily steals all of his scenes. Lena Heady is seriously underused as the fearsome one-eyed Lady Catherine (Heady was pregnant at the time of filming and couldn’t really do much in the way of action scenes), but she does a great job nonetheless. I love how she seems more comfortable beheading monsters than she does dealing with humans in social situations. Mrs. Bennett is marvelous. Her air-headed fixation on getting her daughters married off seems, in this iteration, to be a way for her to cope with the insanity of the real world.
My main issue with the film is how tonally inconsistent it is. About the time when Elizabeth receives Darcy’s letter, the film stops being a comedy and suddenly morphs into a bland action drama…with zombies. Gone are the sight gags and the hilarious juxtapositioning of polite manners and zombie-exploding action. In their place is a dour grimness that seems borrowed from a lesser movie. At this point the actors just do what they can to get to the end of the plot. There’s still swashbuckling, but it lacks the fun of the early fight scenes. And we never get a proper Elizabeth-and-Darcy-mowing-down-a-zombie-horde-together scene, which saddens me. If the whole film had maintained its goofy playfulness and perhaps ramped up the zombie violence to more comical levels, it could have been more than just a gimmicky premise, but the violence is kept firmly in the realm of a tame PG-13 (perhaps even PG since there’s no real excessive gore and not one word of profanity). As such, the zombie elements feel more like a subplot.
Were this a straight Austen adaptation, it would have been magnificent, but there are zombies and I have certain expectations when such creatures are included in a film. The ending actually sort of ignores the entire zombie plot (save for a scene mid-credits), as if it admits that it didn’t really know how to tie things up, so it just goes into denial. The Pride and Prejudice parts were very well done (and filled with a few nods to previous film versions of the story), but the zombie sequences go from Sam Raimi-esque schlocky horror comedy (awesome) to dull, generic Dracula Untold-style action (less awesome).
There are also a number of plot points that seem to be important, but don’t really pan out at all (but maybe that’s just me). Lady Catherine’s creepy daughter, who I’m 96.4523159% sure is a zombie, seems to be important (since Lady Catherine wants Darcy to marry said daughter), but she’s never mentioned again. Also, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mentioned in the pop-up book prologue and make ominous appearances throughout the movie, but are never explained, nor do they actually do anything. And the reveal of the actual villain doesn’t really add anything to the story save for an easily resolved side plot. It seems like the story gets to the point where it’s not sure where to go, so it plays things safe instead of just giving us the fun ass-kicking, courtly dancing, and head-exploding from the beginning. Now, this has the advantage of giving the Austen scenes suitable gravitas, but it detracts from the zombie scenes.
Overall, it’s a relatively family-friendly zombie film (I’d say good for kids ten and up), but the excessive seriousness in the second half sort of kills the fun of the first half, which is sad because I know little girls everywhere would fall in love with Elizabeth Bennett Zombie Hunter as a smart, strong female action hero role model. It’s too good to be a So Bad It’s Good movie, but it’s not good enough to be a satisfying viewing experience overall. Rent it for Matt Smith who’s delightful, and for Elizabeth who’s beautiful and tough, but expect plot holes and unresolved sub plots. There was one other family in the theater with me and they walked out halfway through. I enjoyed it enough to see it through to the end, but it could have done more to stay interesting in the second half.
Sigh. Back to the BBC miniseries, it seems. *hugs Colin Firth for just a little too long and he pushes me away with a polite single-word apology*
Next week, we’ll be continuing with Trek 50 as we look at The Final Frontier!