Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

*. As the title makes pretty clear, this is a mash-up, a label that refers to the mixing together of two (or more) very different, or at least somewhat incongruous, elements. So Jane Austen and zombies.
*. There’s nothing new in this. Movie pitches have been made for years using the same basic principle: a cross between Successful Movie X and Successful Movie Y. And the concept here is pretty clever. Its attractiveness is what made Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel of the same name a bestseller.
*. But then once you have the basic idea established disappointment sets in. It’s not that there’s nothing else to the story. In fact, there is too much to the story. Much too much.
*. Instead of exploring the comic of an outbreak of zombies upsetting upper-crust society we find out (through a well-executed credit sequence) that England has been practically overrun by zombies for years. So they’re nothing new. They also aren’t much of a threat since the fabulous Bennet sisters have all been trained as kung-fu warriors and Darcy is one of the greatest zombie-killers in the land. The upshot of all this is that there is little of the comic incongruity promised in the title. Zombies are just a fact of life.
*. Then there are the zombies themselves. These are unlike any other movie zombies I know of. Apparently the zombie plague is a progressive affliction that gets worse the more brains you eat. This somewhat explains the film’s opening line: ” It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” This is, of course, a riff on Austen’s famous opening line, but it’s totally mystifying until the zombie process is explained later. So it just lands with a thud.
*. But there’s a lot more than this going on with the zombies. It seems they’ve got religion and are thus somewhat sympathetic, making the trick Darcy plays on them at the end both counterproductive and cruel. Characters from the novel are introduced but the plot doesn’t know what to do with them. Parson Collins is comic relief, but he ends up just being dropped. Mr. Bingley has nothing to do except to show that women are tougher than men in this world. Mr. Wickham’s motivations baffled me.
*. In fact, most of this movie baffled me. I didn’t even understand the zombie geography, despite the frequent use of maps. London is surrounded by a wall, and then there’s an area called the In-Between that is overrun by zombies, and then there’s a giant moat separating the rest of England from the In-Between? Does that make sense? But the zombies are on the other side of the moat anyway. What’s going on?
*. There’s not much to like. It’s not gory, or funny, or gory-funny. It’s rambling and confused. Whatever charm it has all comes from Austen. BUt while Lily James is adorable as always as Elizabeth Bennet, Sam Riley struck me as miscast as Darcy and they didn’t have any spark together.
*. Given the film’s hook and pedigree it should have at least done well for a week or so. It didn’t, and was a box office bomb. As I’ve indicated though, the problem wasn’t with the basic idea. That was a winner. But it’s amazing just how big a mess they made of it.

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