As lively as a zombie
Pride + Prejudice + Zombies (2016): Jane Austen's classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge -- an army of undead zombies.
First off, can we call this film what it really is? Pride + Prejudice + Motherf***ing Zombies. I mean how can you not love the idea of having zombies invade 19th century Victorian England? The idea of using swords and single shot muskets, the emphasis on going for the headshot and raising the stakes because if you miss the one shot you get with your gun, you're (un)dead, it's so cool! And then you sprinkle the classic Pride and Prejudice tale on the side and you have one great idea for a story. I mean how can you possibly screw that up? Well by filming all the action sequences in close-up so we can't see anything and lose all resemblance of spatial awareness, by making the one likable male character the villain who we're supposed to hate, by never giving Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcey the chance to earn their character's story arc, and by not letting us understand what's going on in the zombie war at any given moment, that's how. Seriously. I know it's early, but this film is already asking to be on my biggest disappointments of 2016 list. I really did not see this coming, because after all how could you possibly screw this up???
So let's talk about the good first. Lily James is great. This is only the second film I've seen with her in it, (the first being the terrible Burnt) but I heard she was really good in Cinderella as well, and she is very likable as Elizabeth Bennet here. While her performance isn't on the same breakout level as Daisey Ridley's in Star Wars, she's still gearing up to be a superstar, and it's quite obvious that's the case here. Let's see what else.....um the costumes are good. I mean these movie studios better have some awesome 19th century attire lying around so it's basically impossible to screw that one up, but fortunately for us they didn't screw that up. And I mean I guess there's the fact that this is a female-lead film. That's awesome. We don't see that enough but I really shouldn't have to point that because it should be happening way more than it actually is. But at least this is a story about the women and not the men. Aaaaaaaaaaand ummmmmmm some of the lore of the zombies was fascinating? Ya I guess. The idea that a zombie "transforms" when they eat their first human brain and can delay this transformation by eating non-human brains and be civil in the meantime is cool and something different from the usual zombie repertoire. Buuuuuuut where they go with this plot point is a huge waste. Like the rest of the film.
Ok so where did this film go wrong? It starts with the cinematography. This film is sooooo poorly shot. The action sequences aren't as much action sequences as they are someone swiping a sword at the air and you having to believe they just struck at a zombie. I mean even by the dreaded "PG-13 rated violence" standard this film is bad. Let me give you a good example: so there's this idea throughout the film that there's several different classes of martial arts training that everyone partakes in to defend themselves from zombies: the rich are trained in Japanese martial arts while the "wise" are trained in Chinese martial arts. Sounds interesting, right? So we're gonna get a scene where two characters trained in the different schools go up against zombies and maybe the one trained in Japanese martial arts is killed or hurt or has to be saved by the one trained in Chinese martial arts, right? Or really any scene where these two schools of training get showcased on the battlefield? Right? WRONG. This training element is brought up in the opening monologue of the film, and the ONLY time it's brought up afterwards is when the rich judge the (supposedly) wise for training in China instead of Japan. That's it. And when we do get fight scenes, they're shot in such uncomfortable close-ups that we can't actually see the fighting styles in action AT ALL. There's a scene where a few of the daughters are training and fighting each other and it was set up to be this great scene where these fighting styles are really showcased but instead it's shot in a dark basement in extreme close up and you have no idea where anyone is or where anyone else is and GAH IT'S SO FREAKING FRUSTRATING.
Not to mention the cliche last-second saves. Ya those moments just made me cross my arms and sigh. Actually really the entire 3rd act is a disaster for that matter. The one likable male character in the film (who is a made-up character, by the way, and not in Pride and Prejudice) is of course the bad guy, and he's played by the EXTREMELY talented Jack Huston (of Boardwalk Empire acclaim) who really should've played Mr. Darcy because holy crap the guy playing Mr. Darcy was bad. I mean no offense to Sam Riley, but this is my first impression of him and he's never gonna get that one back. I'll cut him some slack because he's given literally nothing to work with here from a writing standpoint, because aside from everyone sounding proper the script here is only good when it's a carbon copy of Pride and Prejudice, but every scene between him and Lily James I just felt like James was just dragging him along as she did essentially all the acting herself. Oh ya, and did I mention that Lena Headey and the great Charles Dance are in this film too? Both of them are obviously cash-grabbing here, as Lena Headey's criminally limited performance can basically be summed up as "Cersei Lannister with an eye patch." Dance is given nothing to do either, but at least the most entertaining moment of the film for me came when these two were together (for one brief scene) and I kept hoping for Headey to just blurt out "Shut up dad!" to Dance.
I could go on, but I figured I'd save you the trouble of putting up with my rantings. The few good moments of this film are surrounded by buckets and buckets of crap, and thus make this, well, crap. Even though Lily James is charming and there are some interesting ideas presented with the zombies, I couldn't help but think "Where the zombies at?" whenever they weren't on screen during the 108 minute film because every male actor besides Jack Huston is awful. And when the zombies were on screen I couldn't see what was going on enough to actually appreciate it. In short, Pride + Prejudice + Zombies is a misfire, one which I hope gets corrected someday. There's some awesome potential here. After all how can you not love the idea of zombies invading Victorian era England? That's so freaking badass! And instead of a class system, you have different styles of fighting defining the rich and the poor. That's cool! There's a hugely fascinating story in there. But it's not here. This film gets the unfortunate distinction of being the first real disappointment of 2016, and I recommend everyone avoid it like the plague. Ha. Get it? Plague? Like zombie plague? Ok I'll go home now.
The Critique: A fascinating premise wasted, Pride + Prejudice + Zombies ultimately fails because of a weak script, bad acting from almost everyone outside the lead, and terrible choreography. Sadly it is the first big disappointment of 2016.
The Recommendation: Don't bother. Go watch Pride and Prejudice again and pretend there are zombies everywhere. It'll probably be better than watching this.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad.
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