Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I am a fan of genre mash-ups be it of the musical, video game or film variety. Sometimes they’re fun and other times they can be misfires, but I usually find them fascinating regardless. Seth Grahame-Smith seems to enjoy introducing horror elements into his in his novels that are based on either the previous works of others or history. I’ve read two of them so far - “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and enjoyed them both immensely. The former was made into a fun film a few years back. The film based on the latter will be released in February 2016. I attended a test screening a few days before Halloween. 

Zombies have infested 19th century England, and while the war rages on for the survival of humankind the tangled relationships of the young Bennet girls (Lily James, Suki Waterhouse, Bella Heathcote, Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady) and their would be suitors (Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Jack Huston, Sam Riley) plays out amongst the bloodshed.
This film, being a mash-up of two different genres (period costume drama and zombie film), can be a tricky prospect to nail. Do you favor one over the other to please the audience? How do you balance the two successfully? Well, Grahame-Smith’s novel, which was a hack of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, managed to balance everything just right and still managed to not take itself too seriously to keep it fun for readers. Thankfully the film adaptation followed suit.

Director Burr Steers (17 Again, Charlie St. Cloud, Igby Goes Down) was the perfect fit for this odd genre-bending flick. He has made the film in a specific style to mimic the Merchant-Ivory period dramas while filling his shots with the goofily over-the-top ultraviolence you’d expect from a modern zombie gorefest. Sure it’s a PG-13 zombie film, but the filmmakers manage to get away with quite a lot of bloodshed. He directs his actors in the same fashion and it works. I wasn’t sure if it would translate at all to a visual medium, but it does in a big, fun way. Congrats Steers!
The script’s adaptation by Steers stays true to the source material and keeps all the major events in tact while pushing aside the minor ones that didn’t do much to advance the story along. The clever situations the characters find themselves in, the witty dialogue and the unexpected humor all shine through. I absolutely adore the way certain conversation topics were swapped out for ones pertaining to the zombie apocalypse. For example, in one scene Elizabeth is being looked down upon by some spoiled high society girls because of the Asian country in which she received her martial arts training (Japan is high class, China is lower class). In the original Austen book I do believe it was the schools these characters could afford to go to that was the topic of the argument. It’s awesome and at times supremely hilarious. I still have problems with the “twist” about the zombies at the halfway point, as well as the fact that some can talk and all that, but sometimes you have to change the rules to make your work stand out from the rest. It doesn’t mean I have to like it though.

The cast is great with only minor quibbles. I really enjoyed the back and forth between Lily James’ (Cinderella, Wrath of the Titans) headstrong Elizabeth and the dour coldness of Sam Riley’s (Maleficent, Control) Mr. Darcy. Sure it gets a little melodramatic at times, but you can thank Jane Austen for that. I also loved Matt Smith’s (Doctor Who, Terminator: Genisys) Mr. Collins. I never knew he was so great at comedy! Seeing Lena Headey and Charles Dance reunited from Game of Thrones here in small roles was rad too. Although I wasn’t fond of Jack Huston’s (Outlander) Mr. Wickham or Douglas Booth’s (Jupiter Ascending) Mr. Bingley. They just seemed… off. Bad casting? Bad direction? Disinterest form the actors? I don’t know, but they didn’t work for me at all.
Costumes, sets, special FX and everything in between is fitting for the time period, if not a little cheap looking. I can’t imagine that the film had a huge budget and it shows at times. Some of the zombie make-up is lame, a coupe of the sets are bargain basement and sometimes it looks as if the costumes during the party scenes were picked up at the local Goodwill. But whatevs. I didn’t mind too much.

What I did have an issue with was the editing. Sure the movie was in an incomplete state (there was a scene that was completely CGI that hadn’t been finished yet and was all undetailed, colorless textures), but I have a feeling that it was already picture locked for the editing. This should change immediately. Some scenes do not flow well, some fade to black at awkward moments and others just seemed to be cut out to shorten the runtime at the cost of the continuity. There is a scene where Elizabeth is reading a letter from Mr. Darcy that is extremely (and overly) dramatic, it fades out and picks back up in the middle of another scene with no context given to make sense of what’s going on or when the scene is taking place in relation to the previous one. I get the feeling that the story spans a few months, so a simple “Day, Month, Year” superimposed over the screen to show when these scenes take place would be immensely helpful. Just sayin’.
And drop the “zombie vision”. It doesn’t work and looks like a cheap filter you can find in After Effects.

I also have to say that for a movie that is partially about martial arts trained girls fighting zombies, when the shit goes down it’s usually pretty lackluster in the choreography department. Sure there is blood and body parts flying all over the place, but the fight scenes leave a lot to be desired.
Regardless, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies completely took me by surprise. I was not anticipating it at all, and the fact that it is being dumped unceremoniously in the dog days of February did nothing to convince me otherwise. This is an April film. A pre-summer mid-level studio film to prime audiences for what is to be unleashed in the world of blockbusters starting in May. It’s that good. Unless the studio is planning on advertising it as a goofy Valentine’s Day film, not unlike Warm Bodies before it. Regardless, it’s better than the release date planned for it.

Fun, charming and clever, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a total blast. It’s like watching a PBS film via SyFy, and I highly recommend you check it out when it hits multiplexes on February 5, 2016.

4 out of 5

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