Monday, February 15, 2016

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" Review: Zombies For The More Sophisticated Horror Fan


It's difficult to not chuckle when hearing the title Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It's just sort of ridiculous right? But here's the real crazy thing, as much as we might find humor in that title and the idea of mixing zombies with Jane Austen, the actual film takes itself deadly serious. Before you cry fowl you should know that is the best part about this period piece zombie flick because if it had played it for laughs it would have fallen apart at the seams. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  1 hr 40 min
Studio: Sony Pictures
Release Date: February 5, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: Everything with zombies
Likes: Horror movies, period dramas, mixing contrasting genres with one another
Neutral: Talking zombies (when used in a serious manner)
Hates: There could have been a little bit more zombie action
What other classic novel could use some zombies?: I would really like to see To Kill A Mockingbird and Zombies.

Romance is in the air...and the stench of the undead.
In this alternate vision of 19th Century, England has been hopelessly overrun by zombies. In order to fight off the ever growing numbers of the undead a gigantic wall was built all around London. Fortifying themselves was only the first step however as the new generation of aristocratic youths have been dispatched to the East to learn the disciplines of hand to hand combat to fight the zombie threat. While some chose the more combat oriented Japan, others chose China where they learned not only combat techniques but wisdom as well. Now years after the zombie plague began, England has been restored to some semblance of normalcy despite the undead infestation still persisting but little do they know their true battle has yet to come.

Anyone familiar with Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice should find this slight departure from the original something of a curiosity. Why integrate horror elements into one of literature's most celebrated stories? Well the simple answer to that is zombies. After experiencing a huge surge in popularity over a decade ago, the prolific undead have found their way into nearly every form of media that exists and now we find them taking over the Victorian age. That's the great thing about zombies though, they fit into just about any setting or genre imaginable. Whether it be a romantic comedy (Life After Beth/Warm Bodies), a buddy cop flick (Dead Heat), an action/adventure (World War Z) or Sci-fi (Last Days on Mars), Zombies seem to fit like a glove.

These zombies are a bit different than the more traditional flesh eaters.
As for how well zombies integrate themselves into an existing work of fiction, a romance nonetheless, that is something we haven't seen before. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PPZ from this point forward) is unlike any zombie movie you have ever seen and even less like any 19th Century film you have ever seen as well. It's not just because the rules are different than most other zombie movies, which they are (more on that later), it's because the setting is in such contrast to subject matter. Director Burr Steers isn't just using the Pride and Prejudice name for s**ts and giggles, he has made a near direct adaptation of the novel itself just and a pretty darn good one at that.

The story hasn't been changed at all. Except for the inclusion of zombies, PPZ features all the same characters, plot points and romantic entanglements that made Austen's novel such a beloved classic. The Bennet family is still the focal point with the five sisters, Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Catherine (Suki Waterhouse), Caroline (Emma Greenwell) and Lydia (Ellie Bamber) looking for love before their family estate is taken away from them if their father (Charles Dance) were to die before they are wed. Their gentlemen callers Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), Mr. Wickham (Jack Houston) and Mr. Collins (Matt Smith) are still present and accounted for as are other key characters such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Heady).

Even the women have been trained in the martial arts.
They still frolic about the countryside as they flirt endlessly with one another. They go to dances, parties, teas and travel about the scenic outdoors via carriage and horse. They speak properly and have impeccable manners. For all intents and purposes, this is Pride and Prejudice. The only real difference are the zombies which have been sort of shoehorned into their story. It's as if zombies have invaded the actual novel and re-written history but instead of breaking free and going down different paths the characters are still trying to do what is expected of them. It's safe to say that no story has ever been reworked quite like this and that is one of the best parts of the film, it is exactly what you would expect from a film with the title it carries. You get Pride and Prejudice, but you also get zombies.

Speaking of the zombies, this is perhaps the one point of contention some might take with the film. As with all iconic horror characters the zombie has so many different mythologies and rules tied to it anymore that it is difficult to know what makes a zombie an actual zombie anymore. Taking a queue from the classic 80's horror/comedy Return of the Living Dead, PPZ features zombies that talk. Yes, you read that right. These zombies not only talk though, they plan, scheme and can even be reasoned with. They also have an endless appetite for human brains which is another page taken from Return of the Living Dead, but in an interesting twist here the amount of human brains they consume actually dictates their intellect.

It's not uncommon for a night of zombie slaying to be followed by tea and crumpets.
Where usually when someone gets bit by a zombie they immediately turn into a mindless eating machine here when you are bit you don't really change that much...at first. Akin to the same rules applied to vampires, in PPZ you gain an appetite for human brains upon being bit and thusly begin to crave them. The catch is however with each spoonful of human brains you consume you slowly begin to become more and more feral until you reach the point where all forms of consciousness are lost and you become what can be considered your traditional mindless zombie.

It is a novel concept for sure but given that it isn't played for laughs (unlike Return of the Living Dead) it does have a bit of conflict with the serious tone the film is going for. Case in point is a scene where a recently bitten woman is trying to have a conversation with a human and during their stereotypical proper dialog exchange her head explodes almost cartoonishly. How about a scene involving a zombie who sets a trap for their victims and is subsequently dispatched in a rather ridiculous manner. If you are predisposed to find talking zombies humorous then it might be a bit of a chore taking the film serious from time to time.

While most of the zombies talk, they all eventual turn into the ghouls we recognize.
Whether or not some of the zombie stuff was intended to be funny (I'm betting not), the film isn't completely devoid of intentional humor. In a scene stealing performance former Doctor Who, Matt Smith injects a good dose of much needed comedy into the film. As Mr. Collins he prances around screen seemingly oblivious to the fact that he lives in a world inhabited by zombies. While others like Elizabeth and Darcy are sharpening their swords looking for a zombie head to lop off, Mr. Collins is busy asking for more scones at his dinner party. It really is an inspired turn for Smith who is clearly having a ball in the role which lends the film a certain self awareness that is missing from all the other more straight laced performances.

The entire cast is pleasantly solid though. Lily James, who made a huge impression in the lead for Cinderella last year makes for a very confident and enjoyable female protagonist. Sam Riley somehow avoids the pitfall of playing Darcy like the bore he appears to be and gives James the perfect zombie hunting counterpart. All the other characters do good supporting work but most like Charles Dance and Lena Heady (both Game of Thrones alumni) don't really have much to do aside from citing their dialog and quickly being forgotten. But that has more to do with Jane Austen's novel than a failing of the film.

Love is a battlefield...filled with dead zombies.
PPZ is one of the most odd zombie films to come along in quite some time, but does it fail or succeed at what it is trying to do? Fans of period dramas will likely love it until the first zombie decapitation happens. Fans of zombies will likely love it as soon as everyone stops going to dinner parties and starts killing some zombies. The film was made to be a hybrid of both genres though and as such develops this really strange identity crisis which may have the adverse effect of making both parties indifferent towards it. If there were one area the film could have excelled at more it would have been to intersperse the story with more original content instead of simply trying to add zombies to all the chapters of the novel. PPZ isn't a total failure or success, instead it is a bizarre experiment that tries to serve both its masters but ultimately delivers only a mere sampling of the full course.



FINAL THOUGHTS:

As a zombie fanatic it is impossible for me to hate PPZ as I truly appreciate how different it is from nearly every other zombie movie out there. But that isn't enough for me to give the film a full recommendation as it's Jane Austen meets George Romero mash up doesn't gel in a completely satisfying way. There are a lot of neat ideas buried deep beneath the surface that hints at a film that needed to go all in but instead opted for folding a bit too early. Zombie fans should give it a shot, everyone else should steer clear or just wait for it to hit home video.

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