Film review: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, from ‘Built For Speed’

Like Snakes On a Plane, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is one those films where the title pretty much sums up the entire film. It takes Jane Austen’s classic romantic novel and archetype of 19th century feminine manners and adds brain eating zombies.

The concept seems like a cheap, one joke gimmick and audiences would be forgiven for fearing a dud like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Surprisingly, though, this is an effective action/horror film as well as a reasonably convincing romantic drama and period piece.

As in Jane Austen’s novel, the film centres on the Bennett sisters, five young ladies from a refined but not exactly wealthy English family. Keen to ensure her daughters are taken care of in a manner befitting a lady, Mrs Bennett (Sally Phillips) desperately tries to marry them off to well-to-do local gents. Forthright daughter Elizabeth (Lily James), however, isn’t keen on bowing to convention and marrying a man for whom she cares little, in this case the local Parson (Matt Smith). Her attention is captured, though, when she spies the mysterious and somewhat prickly new arrival Mr Darcy (Sam Riley).

While the romantic dalliances between Elizabeth, her sisters and the various suitors come straight from Austen there’s a twist as this film is set in an alternate history of 19th century Britain where polite society is at war with ravenous hordes of flesh munching zombies. To combat the zombie menace, upper-class types have been trained in martial arts with the wealthiest tutored in Japan and the less filthy rich in China. Having previously been dispatched to China, the Bennett sisters are masters of Shaolin Kung Fu and sword fighting and alongside Mr Darcy interrupt tea parties and elegant balls to lop off the heads of numerous undead fiends.

With detailed production design and atmospheric cinematography, this film has – at least during the non-zombie sequences – the look and feel of a legitimate Austen adaptation. Much of the film is played straight with Lily James, Sam Riley and the entire supporting cast – that includes Australia’s Bella Heathcote – doing a fine job of creating a convincing Austen-esque world and giving what could have been a silly film some substance and conviction.

A film called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies must go the comic route at some stage but it tends to do this within the bounds established by Austen with quirky characters like the bumbling Parson providing a smattering of amusement. In the context of zombie apocalypse films this one is reasonably restrained although there are a few gory moments as zombies sink their fangs into victims or have their heads removed. The fight scenes between the Bennett sisters and their cadaverous opponents are reasonably visceral although they’re too often plagued by wobble-cam and dim lighting.

This film faces some major obstacles in garnering an audience, Austen purists will turn their noses up at the idea of a zombie adaptation of one of their favourite novels while horror fans will be disappointed by the emphasis on the period romance. Still, this unusual hybrid of genteel literature and horror film is better than expected.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Horror/ comedy.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Burr Steers.

Release date: 25th February 2016.

Running time: 107 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

 

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