Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter may have been the first mash-up of literary and/or historical characters with fantasy elements to make it to cinemas back in 2012, but now the book that started the whole trend; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, has finally joined it on the big screen.
As in Jane Austen’s original book, the Bennet family, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five daughters, attempt to find suitable husbands to secure their futures, as there is no male Bennet heir and the daughters will have no home upon their father’s death.
While dealing with snobs, priggish fools and the mores of English regency society, they also have to contend with the added complication of a zombie infection that has gripped fair old England, imported from the further reaches of the empire.
The Battling Bennets
The preposterousness of that title has been fully embraced and fleshed out a nicely as P&P&Z depicts a society that has not succumbed to the constant threat of zombie attack but has adjusted. The aristocracy have holed up in their great houses and fortified their mansions, playing card games of “whist” while the zombie horde is kept relatively at bay outside. Martial arts “from the orient” have also become de rigueur skills for young ladies.
It’s in this world that Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet, 2nd eldest of the sisters, tries to find a man worthy of her. One who, as she puts it “will not ask her to relinquish her sword, for a ring” while her elder sister attempts to court local gentry Mr. Bingley.
Lizzy takes an instant dislike to Mr. Bingley’s friend, the raspy throated Colonel Darcy however as fans of either book will know, love can come from unexpected places and it’s path doesn’t always run smoothly.
Disrupting matters even further, in events that don’t seem to be in the P&P&Z book by Seth Grahame-Smith, is the introduction of a new type of zombie that seems to retain more of its critical human faculties than the rest of the undead, suspicious undead attacks on certain families and the addition of a much more action set-piece oriented third act.
After a languid start with Mr Darcy and an opening credits narration by Charles Dance that that makes Harrison Ford’s infamous Blade Runner voice over seem positively high energy, P&P&Z settles into a regular rhythm of plot points from Austen’s book interspersed with zombie attacks and lightly peppered by quick jokes.
This pattern can lead to some audience fatigue however, as the main plot points from Austen’s book are slightly predictable at this stage and the audience is left waiting for the next plot twist or action scene to liven things up a little. More humour may have helped with this but what jokes are there, start to become more sparse as the film goes on.
The main romantic leads, Lily James and a raspy Sam Riley; Bella Heathcote and Douglas Booth, come off as pretty wet, the addition of fighting skills not doing much to enliven the roles and they all play their parts a little too straight. The entrance of Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, as a prancing Parson Collins, and Game Of Thrones Lena Heady, as literally the most bad-ass woman in all of England, provides a glimpse of what could have been if P&P&Z had taken itself a little less seriously.
There Will be Blood?
Despite some nice work involving carrion flies, a fight with a giant and an argument between the two leads that takes place while they physically fight in an enclosed room, (a scene that either purposefully homages or totally rips-off the sword fighting seduction scene from 1998’s The Mask of Zorro) much of the film is spent waiting for the next laugh.
The zombie effects are well done, but in this age of excellent zombie effects on a TV budget in shows like The Walking Dead and Ash Vs Evil Dead, that’s to be expected and despite an over-reliance on sudden, unexpected head shots, P&P&Z is also a surprisingly bloodless affair.
An early scene, that’s supposed to show how the Bennet sisters are as familiar with blades as they are with bonnets, comes off as less than exciting thanks to over use of slo-mo and CGI blood that leaves their pristine white evening gloves spotless. A more grungy aesthetic mixed with the fashions and decorum of the time might have provided more entertaining.
P&P&Z is an entertaining piece of fluff that passes the time but definitely won’t stand the test of time as much as Austen’s original.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is released in Malaysian cinemas on 18th February 2016
Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Sally Phillips, Charles Dance, Jack Huston, Lena Headey, Matt Smith
Directed by: Burr Steers
Official Site here.