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Take Jane Austen’s most famous novel, add zombies and death, and come out with a somewhat brainless, somewhat amusing piece of nonsense.

 

Based off of Seth Grahame-Smith’s take on Jane Austen’s classic novel, beloved literary characters Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and Mr. Darcy, or, Colonel Darcy as he’s known here, take on the zombie apocalypse as it ravages Great Britain during the regency period. As dissonant as the idea of zombies and Jane Austen are, the film adaptation of a book, based off of another book, is decidedly not too terrible.

The film opens by explaining how the zombies have come to prevail upon England, by plague, and how wealthy families send their children to either China or Japan to learn to fight. Elizabeth (sometimes Lizzy, mostly Liz) and her sisters studied the art of Shaolin, and are seen cleaning muskets and sharpening blades in a scene early on. Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) is proud that his daughters are trained in battle and “not in the kitchen,” but Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) all but dismisses their little zombie problem and works to get her daughters married off, though all of the girls, save for Elizabeth, seem to accept this, and still kill zombies in the meantime.

Parson Collins (Dr. Who’s Matt Smith) mentions how, if he takes Elizabeth as his wife, she’ll have to hang up her sword and pick up pots and pans, as there will be no weapons in his house. One of the more delightful aspects of the adaptation is the portrayal of these women not just as five women doomed to fail if they don’t marry rich enough, but five women equal to men in not only combat, but strength and character. Liz proves she is as equal to any man and will not be told what to do, whom to marry, or how to behave. In fact, it makes her do the exact opposite. In the beginning of the film, as they are at one of the many meet-your-future-spouse balls, her sister Jane comments that for the right man, she would relinquish her sword for a ring, and she slyly replies, “the right man wouldn’t ask me to.”

This is notably a departure from the source material, although the original Ms. Bennet is not a simpering, silly girl, ready to meet her husband and fall into all that entails. She’s strong. Independent. Cynical. These still hold true for Liz, just add a dagger in the garter belt and a rifle over her shoulder, while still clad in the appropriate, corseted attire befitting a lady, heaving bosom and all.

Lily James pulls this off, and is both charming yet formidable, and it makes the scenes between her and Sam Riley’s Mr. Darcy actually fun to watch. Liz and Mr. Darcy have not only verbal but physical sparring matches, and he makes it clear that a woman should not only be skilled in music and singing, but also in the art of war. The only problem with this is Sam Riley. The chemistry between them is dull, and he doesn’t match James’ passion or intensity. Yes, he fills up the place with prejudice but that’s about it, and he gets a lot of screen time to do so.

Some of the character’s roles in the original novel are severely undermined here, or otherwise non-existent. Charles Dance was amusing in the mere minutes of screen time he had as Mr. Bennet, and Lena Heady’s Catherine De Bourgh, while a striking and welcome presence, could have been utilized a little more. Her eye patch game was strong, though, and she lent herself wholly to the depiction as a fearsome zombie slayer.

Jack Huston’s Mr. Wickham was the main antagonist of the plot, but didn’t resonate well as such. His role was probably the most different from Wickham in the original novel, and to his credit, it wasn’t so much his acting that soured things, but rather the way in which his character is dealt with, and the bleh ending and “climactic” moments surrounding it.

Toward the end is where things started to fall off and the whole thing feels tiresome and sluggish. We get it, there are zombies, we get it, you hate her you love her, she hates you she loves you. It no longer feels like a satirical take, and takes on a more serious tone, but with comical depictions of zombies being thrown around and stabbed, it’s all very confusing.

There isn’t much humor in it, and what little there is, is only enough to elicit a few chuckles or snickers. Matt Smith’s Parson Collins was arguably the only form of comic relief in the film, but what he did with it truly worked, though this too, by the end, felt weak.

Consistency was one of the bigger problems; the film failed to keep the balance between the nature of the zombie melee, the original story, and whether or not to inject any humor in to the plot. How many truly great zombie movies are out there that can really say that they were able to combine all of these things successfully? It takes a deft hand to produce a zombie movie that doesn’t come off like a joke and go straight to DVD. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wanted to do so much, and it did try, but never struck that sweet spot. Key scenes in the novel were punctuated with action sequences, to the point where they fade to inconsequential, and what’s left standing is a cheap imitation of the beginning product.

To be fair, though, that’s what happens when something is reimagined from a reimagining, it becomes diluted, and will either stand tall or fall. I’m pleased to report that this film stumbled and fell, and then grinned sheepishly as it stood back up.

Directed By: Burr Steers

Produced By: Marc Butan, Sean McKittrick, Brian Oliver, Natalie Portman, Annette Savitch, Allison Shearmur, Tyler Thompson

Written By: Burr Steers

Based on:  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcoate, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance, Lena Heady

 

Distributed By: Lionsgate, Screen Gems

Release Date: February 5, 2016

Run Time: 107 minutes

Rating: PG-13

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