Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
If you are thinking that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (opening today) sounds more like a Saturday Night Live sketch than a full- length movie, your intuition is serving you correctly. Maybe not since Hot Tub Time Machine has a film's title been so incredibly clear as to what you can expect from it. Yes, this is the unexpected collision of two familiar settings: The esteemed stuffiness of 19th century England, as portrayed in several Jane Austen novels (credited as a "co-author" here) matched with the unkempt, chaos of a zombie apocalypse. It's based on a popular book (no not that one), by Seth Grahame-Smith that parodied Austen's classic work. Sadly - perhaps expectedly - this mash-up turns to mush rather quickly.
All of the familiar characters are present. The lively young lady, Elizabeth Bennett (played assertively by Cinderella and Downton
Abbey actress Lily James), the tall and striking Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), the Bingleys, the Bennetts, the Wickhams, etc. Inconveniently, they just happen to live in a world of zombies. These zombies are not as slow and eminent as in The Walking Dead...many of them can still speak and carry on with the living long after they are zombified. It's only when they get their first taste of human brains, do they become zoned-out, blood-thirsty killing machines.
One does not enter into a film called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies expecting all that much, but the first half hour or so proves that this was actually more of a missed opportunity rather than a flat-out bad idea. The Bennett sisters still giggle, joke and long to be married to a handsome (hopefully rich) fellow. But they also know how to kick some ass. In fact, killing zombies is just part of everyday life in this version of Europe, and the film starts off with some genuine laughs, and some genuine leaps, as in out of your chair...exactly what is required of a good horror movie. There is humor in the idea that these uptight noblemen and women are simply carrying on with human things - love, wealth, prosperity - before a pesky zombie shows up, requiring them to obliterate the lost souls in the most cartoonish of ways.
And just when you think that this film might surprise you as at least a clever, mildly-amusing romp...the tone begins to shift, continuing until their is nothing left to care about. The zombies - treated in the beginning like bits of comic relief - become a serious threat, requiring several of the characters to talk about rising up against them for several long stretches. The humor goes away, literally, as in there is not even a flat joke here and there that misses. Matt Smith (of Dr. Who) shows up and is amusing as the flamboyant Parson Collins, but the film relies way too heavily on him for levity down the stretch. And what is Lena Headey doing in this movie?
If the film isn't a parody meant to make us giggle, what is it? It definitely is not a real horror film, in that it does not try, nor does it result in, any scares. It is not a romance, because these characters are usually too busy sword-fighting and there is no chemistry to speak of between any of them. I'm not quite sure what this movie wants to be. But I know what it is, and I'm pretty sure I just stepped in it.
In the film, Mr. Darcy carries with him a vile full of flies, that he releases to detect when their is a zombie hidden among the living. Something tells me these flies would be attracted to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, just not in the way that Mr. Darcy intended.
Genre: Action, Horror, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Lily James, Lena Headey, Matt Smith, Douglas Booth, Jack Huston, Sam Riley, Aisling Loftus, Emma Greenwell, Bella Heathcote
"Based" on the novel by Jane Austen
Written & Directed by Burr Steers (Charlie St. Cloud, 17 Again, Igby Goes Down)
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