“Lily James is an absolute movie star.”
That was my initial takeaway leaving the screening for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a few weeks ago and might give you a helpful hint about my feelings towards the movie as a whole. It’s based off of the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austen), and the latest film adaptation of Grahame-Smith’s work over the past few years. After the positively horrid Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as well, I think you might be able to understand why I walked into Zombies with some very, very low expectations. What did I end up getting though? A lot of fun actually.
As you can probably imagine, the film is an odd, but fairly cohesive combination of the classic Jane Austen story, with the usual faces including Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James), Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), Jane Bennett (Bella Heathcote), Mr. Collins (Matt Smith), and more. Only this time, they’re surrounded in a world of the terrifying undead.
Perhaps wisely too, the film doesn’t spend much time explaining itself, although it does struggle to get through an opening prologue that stumbles over a lot of exposition, and while it uses a unique visual tool, it still feels clunky and overly necessary. I can’t help but wonder if it could have been done in a better way, but it’s such a small portion of the film, that it really doesn’t affect its overall quality that much.
What really helps to make Zombies work though, is the talented cast that director Burr Steers and his team have assembled. Lily James continues to prove herself as one of the best actresses working today, after elevating last year’s Cinderella in ways few others could have and making this Elizabeth Bennett feel both modern and contemporary at the same time. Able to pull off the romantic scenes with Riley’s Darcy as well as the fight scenes, if Cinderella didn’t announce her as one of the current actresses to watch, then this certainly will.
Sam Riley does a suitable job as Mr. Darcy as well, bringing the brooding, long stares that moviegoers and fans of the material will want, as well as being able to pull off being the film’s key male badass. Douglas Booth has practically nothing to do with his Mr. Bingley here, along with several of Elizabeth’s sisters and unfortunately, Lena Headey’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is criminally underused throughout the film’s run time and story. Jack Huston as well brings the kind of menace and mystery to his Mr. Wickham, who takes more than a few somewhat surprising turns, but is one of the film’s least memorable characters.
Like James though, Matt Smith’s Mr. Collins absolutely steals the show as the film’s comedic relief. His Collins is bumbling, arrogant, and downright laughable in a number of ways, and where Collins’ schtick could have gotten old fast, instead just gets funnier and funnier along the way. Doctor Who fans will be happy to see him incorporate some of his trademark Eleven charm and obsurdity here, without overpowering the film’s story or his surrounding characters. In a cast made of impressive young and veteran actors, he was able to stand out from the pack in a big, noticeable way.
It’s hard for me to think of anything that irritates me more in movies though, than when a film creates a strong female character (for the sake of it), but then gives her nothing to do, and instead makes her cold to all those around her and closed off to the world. Not only is it unrealistic, but it completely negates what made characters like Ripley and Sarah Connor so memorable, with their depth and their characters’ transformative journeys. I’m not saying any of the female characters in this film do anything particularly memorable or even elevate above their Austen creation all that much, but it was refreshing to see female characters that are incredibly badass and strong, while also being well-rounded characters, open to other people and relationships.
I suppose the inclusion of the zombies almost made this expected, but I was delighted to see it nonetheless.
Director Burr Steers often opts too heavily for CGI in some of his scenes, but the zombies themselves look exceptional throughout, even if some of their environments or deaths don’t quite match up to their appearances. His direction is nothing remarkable, and in the several moments that he implements style, it either works or fails. No, the star of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the acting it gets from its cast, who not only pay homage to their Jane Austen origins, but also embrace the absurdity of their zombie pairings just the right amount.
It’s entirely possible that my mood when I saw the film affected my viewing experience. It wouldn’t be the first time. But as someone who walked into the movie expecting the kind of popcorn-eating escapism that only these kinds of films can provide, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it. Even with all of the cliches and the too-ludicrious-for-its-own-good moments, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies welcomes and addresses its own silliness in a way that I legitimately respect. Being able to kick some overused movie tropes in the head along the way is just icing on the bloody cake.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is set to hit theatres on February 5th.
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
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