Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
PLOT: Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters have a difficult enough time trying to find an appropriate husband that is a worthy match. When you throw in the living dead, the girls not only must find time for courtship, they also have to deal with killing a bunch of zombies.
REVIEW: In the Quirk Books novel, Seth Grahame-Smith took Jane Austen’s beloved classic and added an undead twist. And now, we have the feature film version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, a movie that examines the struggles of the well-to-do Bennet family. And what the trailers don’t really tell you is that this is a funny film that pays more attention to Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), her sisters, and their battles with social classes, although they still have to deal with the pesky unmentionables - zombies. Unlike the overly serious adaptation of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, PPZ is far more fanciful. It also helps that the cast is uniformly great, ably bringing Austen’s own voice to life… and yes, there are the zombies.
Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and her sisters, Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), Mary (Millie Brady) are all fiercely devoted to their father’s teachings. Since the Black Plague, 19th Century England has seen some rather inopportune circumstances. Aside from a handful of safe havens, it is home to an army of the undead. Yet for the Bennet family, they still struggle with finding husbands and attending grand parties for the elite - zombie’s are not allowed. In the midst of finding their intended spouse, Elizabeth strikes up a more than complicated relationship with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), a friend to Jane’s suitor Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth). Yet Darcy and Elizabeth are constantly at odds, while she finds his need to kill the zombies before they start a bit, well, prejudice perhaps.
Jane Austen’s work has always been known for smartly crafted female characters and thankfully, this strangely sweet film doesn’t lose sight of that. Trained by their father (Charles Dance), the Bennet girls are equally apt at looking for love as they are slaying all the pesky flesh eaters. Years after the success of TWILIGHT has settled, this is a much better example of a young adult romance. It surely helps that the film’s writer and director Burr Steers remains true to the original author’s dialogue - as did Grahame-Smith with his unique take on the classic. There is something entertainingly cheeky in the way these characters speak and it is cleverly done here.
PPZ features an impressive cast, with each of the actors ably handling the colorful dialogue. And you couldn’t find a better Lizzie and Darcy. Both Lily James and Sam Riley battle each other, as well as the constant danger of being bitten, and it is rather enjoyable to watch. Yet the real star of the show is the creepily obsessed Parson Collins. Played by Matt Smith (Doctor Who), the actor gives a captivatingly funny performance. He tackles the role with foppish perfection. Another fan favorite, the fantastic Lena Headey, shows up for a bit as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And while she is terrific, her character plays a very minor role in the proceedings. As the questionable Mr. Wickham, Jack Huston manages to convey the complicated nature of the character especially well.
And yes, this is called PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, so don’t be fooled by this talk of social structure and romance, there are zombies. Yet not unlike SHAUN OF THE DEAD, the characters come first. This is a PG-13 feature, so if you are expecting a ton of gore, you won’t get it. There are a number of kills, and they occasionally come close to an R, but it holds back. The director even implements a “zombie POV” where the image on screen is somewhat blurred. This is not a bad choice when implemented well. Another minor issue is the use of CGI. Especially in the opening sequence, the visual effects are not always reliable. In fact, I was little worried early on whether the film could rise up from the dead after the first few minutes. Not to worry, it certainly does.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES takes itself less seriously than ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER and it’s all the better for it. Lily James and Sam Riley make for a perfectly matched romantic duo, and Matt Smith is fantastic. His work here is reminiscent of the great Daniel Day Lewis in the Merchant Ivory classic A ROOM WITH A VIEW. Smith steals every second he is on screen. And yes, there are a couple of cleverly creepy zombie attacks that help make this genre hybrid far better than you’d expect. Even with the overuse of CG and the PG-13 rating, PPZ is a bloody good blast of zombie fun.
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