Film Review: ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Movie
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt substantial audiences.

Tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt substantial audiences, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is in fact a moderately entertaining film, not deficient in old-fashioned costume drama when it pleases, nor in the power of being clever where it chooses, but awkward and unsatisfying. It comes with a very encouraging pedigree, based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s high-concept bestseller; it has the fortune of well-qualified cast members, all in the habit of investing their roles with more than they ought, and taking cues from other films of rank; and its producers ought therefore in every respect to have been entitled to think well of their box office prospects, and meanly of others. However, in Hollywood, the power of doing anything with quickness is always much prized by the possessor of the rights to a hot property, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. But the public’s good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.

It is not hard to fix on the minute, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation for America’s passing fixation with cheeky genre mash-ups. It was not too long ago. Yet the trend reached its endpoint before this film had begun shooting. As a novel, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” cheerfully exploited public-domain laws by combining the actual text of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel with additional new details that wove in parallel tales of a zombie plague (even impertinently crediting Miss Austen as co-author), creating a literary sensation and a wealth of imitators upon its publication in 2009. Gimmick or no, the novel managed to combine its warring components charmingly: Such squeamish readers as cannot bear to connect their Georgian-era drawing-room comedies with brain chomping and exploding heads are not worth a regret. In director-screenwriter Burr Steers’ filmic adaptation, however, there seems a gulf impassable between them, and the film’s cast must learn to be content with being cleverer than the material deserves.

The tonal progressions of the film are very rapid; it jumps from dancing to zombie slaying, and zombie slaying to talk of matrimony in a moment. It opens gaily, with a prologue that introduces the leather-frock-coated Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) — a gentleman of handsome features, noble mien, 10,000 pounds a year, and a quick trigger finger — as he investigates and eliminates a zombie infestation at a whist party. As further explained by a delightful storybook credits sequence, England has been overrun by hordes of the undead, uncharmingly grouped, which appear to uncommon advantage in their sieges against the living.

For the Shaolin Temple-trained Bennet sisters, of which the eldest Jane (Bella Heathcote) and the headstrong Elizabeth (Lily James) are the only ones of consequence, the zombies are but a minor obstacle in the path of the more pressing matter of securing suitable marriages. Using generous dialogue directly from Austen’s novel, Jane and Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth, the type of happy actor to whom almost every female eye is turned) undergo a dissonant courtship, while Elizabeth and Darcy play out a more tempestuous battle of wits amid the zombie raids. That expression of “violently in love” is so hackneyed, so doubtful, so indefinite that it gives very little idea of Elizabeth and Darcy’s repartee, which at one point encompasses hand-to-hand combat and verbal jousting simultaneously. Their performances are well met, and their bouts of acrobatic flirtation provide the film’s chief pleasures: Is not general incivility the essence of both love and kung fu?

Regarding the sequences of zombie mayhem, Steers’ camera does not move over these scenes in the masterly manner which one sees so many directors do. He does not have the same force or rapidity, and with the violence confined to PG-13 parameters, it does not produce the same expression. Jump scares and genuine suspense are different things, though the two are often thought of synonymously here.

As for the zombies themselves, they attack in various ways — with bare-faced lurching, ingenious strategies and distant swarming; but making them interesting eludes the skill of all involved, and the film is at last obliged to concoct a secondhand doomsday scenario to increase the stakes. At intervals, Steers appears as eager to escape all the swordplay as the characters, with the scenes of ballroom courtship curiously more intense than the scenes of carnage. (Adieu to dismemberment and spleens! What are flesh-eating ghouls to quadrilles and duets after supper?)

In acting, James is the superior. Riley is by no means deficient, but James’ performance is clever. She is at the same time haughty, reserved and deadly, and her manners, though alive to the potential for parody, are always presented with a straight face. In that respect her co-star has greatly the advantage. Riley seems sure of playing the material for laughs wherever he appears; James is continually straddling the line. Elsewhere in the cast, Lena Headey is excessively diverting as the Amazonian superwarrior Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Matt Smith, ideally cast as the odious Mr. Collins, is all astonishment.

(Jane Austen contributed to this review.)

Film Review: 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'

Reviewed at Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City, Calif., Feb. 1, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems and Cross Creek Pictures presentation of a Sierra Pictures, Madriver Pictures, QC Entertainment, Allison Shearmur Prods., Handsomecharlie Films production in association with Head Gear Films. Produced by Marc Butan, Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson, Sean McKittrick, Allison Shearmur, Natalie Portman, Annette Savitch. Executive producers, Sue Baden-Powell, Lauren Selig, Compton Ross, Phil Hunt, Edward H. Hamm, Jr., Alee Keshishian, Nick Meyer, Kimberly Fox.

Crew

Directed, written by Burr Steers, from the novel by Jane Austen, Seth Grahame-Smith. Camera (color), Remi Adefarasin; editor, Padraic McKinley; music, Fernando Velazquez; music supervisor, Laura Katz; production designer, Dave Warren; costume designer, Julian Day; supervising art director, Steve Carter; set decorator, Naomi Moore; sound (Dolby Digital), Jon Casali; supervising sound editor, Martyn Zub; re-recording mixers, Michael Barry, Zub; visual effects supervisors, Simon Stanley-Clamp, John Bair, David Isyomin, David M. V. Jones; visual effects, Cinesite, Phosphene & Co., Rampage; special effects supervisor, Chris Reynolds; assistant director, Matthey Penry-Davey; casting, John Papsidera, Des Hamilton.

With

Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance, Sally Phillips, Lena Headey. (English, Japanese, Mandarin dialogue)

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 10

Leave a Reply

10 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Amelia says:

    This is a wonderful review, thank you for providing it and (from what I can tell), without bias. You have given a good summary of the happenings of this film, spoiling little of the plot if any at all. It is well written, and I truly enjoyed the use of quotes from the actual book (reworked), in order to get points across. It was very clever, without resorting to sarcasm. I am an Austin fan, and I thoroughly enjoy her stories. However, when I first heard of this film, I was taken aback. I admit that I had some hope for the film, the thought is interesting after all. For the most part however, I was fairly certain that it would fail. As it seems from this review, I was correct in my assumptions. I truly appreciate the honesty, mentioning its good points and acknowledging the skill of the actors and writers. This is a fair review in my opinion, honest and without any unnecessary slander or hatred. I know a few people who were angry and disgusted when they found out that this movie was being made. I would not go that far, but I agree that this film was taken up in a fad, and as mentioned, that fad ended before this movie could even begin production. I am somewhat glad. In my opinion, as interesting a tale this seems at first, there are some ideas that should not come into fruition. From what I have read, I feel as though I do not have to see this movie. Knowing the original story and reading this review reveal all I would really want to know. I may see it simply for the sake of seeing it, though thankfully I can go and not be horribly disappointed. I won’t expect to love it, but perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised. It may be tolerable at the very least.

  2. suerum says:

    Mr. Andrew your speechifying is indeed clever but your meaning less than sanguine I will take from your observations those parts which promise one some mild aspiration of fulsome entertainment whilst discarding those troublesome aspects that counter the selfsame. I am indeed indebted to you, sir, for troubling yourself to exercise your purview with regard to this cinematic debut upon our respective behalves.

  3. Jeannineinsd says:

    I love the Jane Austen wordplay in your review!

  4. Lily James of the Lovely Lily James... says:

    She’s so smart! No prejudice here! But men turn into zombies around her! They oggle her, and want to kiss her maddly!

  5. John Miller says:

    Great review! Just saw “P&P” on TCM, so got an extra kick out of it.

  6. Tawanda says:

    Not Georgian though. This is Regency. Not enough cleavage to be Georgian.

  7. Thomas Dillon says:

    My compliments to Mr Barker on the enchanting felicity of his elegant review!

  8. Phineas says:

    A brilliant review, perfectly capturing the tone of Jane Austen’s work. Bravo.

  9. Mjkbk says:

    This has got to be one of the most ENTERTAINING reviews I’ve read in a long time. Bravo, Jane! Er, Andrew!

  10. Justin says:

    That opening paragraph of the review is so Jane Austen. I LOVE IT!

More Film News from Variety

Loading