Friday, February 05, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I love a clever tagline
"I totally loved PPZ," I texted my friend after I got out of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies screening.

"Are you drunk" was the reply.

I get it. I didn't expect to like this movie, either—much less enjoy it so much that I would recommend others spend their hard-earned money going to see it.

What's more, I can't even say my enthusiasm about this film stems from any sort of Jane Austen fandom. I've read not one of her books, nor have I seen any of the several Pride and Prejudice adaptations. Before you judge me to be some sort of uncultured moron, I'll have you know that I was in AP English throughout high school, but for whatever reason Austen's books were never on the curriculum. Maybe they figured we nerds would seek them out for ourselves? Alas, I did no such thing. I've never been about the whole "women in corsets" era.

Which, again, is why it's so weird that I adored PPZ. Its trailers made it look like it consisted of a bunch of supermodels being all pouty and sexy while hiking up their dresses to reveal whatever weapon they had strapped to their thighs that would be used to dispatch the undead. However, I was already hooked by the time that silliness hit the screen in the actual film. In fact, I was sold in the very first scene, where we see the ever-solemn Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) ferret out a zombie in a room full of stuffy high-society types. Unlike other parts of the film, nothing in this initial scene is meant to be funny, and somehow it works. We learn that 19th century British zombies are not of The Walking Dead variety; they can still act and appear human for quite some time. Which is what makes Darcy's task all the more suspenseful. When he finally zeroes in on the undead guest, he wastes no time in bringing him/her/it to a bloody end ... which we see from the zombie's perspective. That's when I knew director and screenwriter Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, 17 Again) wasn't going to phone this one in, and I allowed myself to think there could be a chance that a film called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might not be embarrassingly awful.

Girl Power!
As you may know, this morbid twist on Austen's classic story was first brought to us in novel form by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It focuses on Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), who's unlike most girls at that time because her goal in life isn't to be married off to the highest bidder. She's got several sisters (the aforementioned supermodels), and their father (Charles Dance, aka Tywin Lannister) is refreshingly progressive in that he, too, thinks his girls should aspire to more than "Mrs." status. And so he has trained them in Chinese combat techniques so that they can survive the cruel zombie wasteland that the English countryside has become.

When Elizabeth's sister Jane (Bella Heathcoate) and the rich Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) fall for each other, Elizabeth often finds herself in the company of Bingley's friend Mr. Darcy, who is giving Grumpy Cat a serious run for his money. Darcy is perpetually somber and frowning and annoyed, and it's clear he's a big ol' snob. Elizabeth's got no patience for that, yet over the course of time she and Darcy at least grow to appreciate each other's zombie-killing skills.

Not a pirate, though that would've been coolDespite the fact that soulless corpses are slowly but surely taking over their country, the characters in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies still fall victim to the worst human emotions: there is too much pride and there is definitely prejudice—and there's also extreme jealousy, paranoia and stubbornness. What I loved is that it was still such a human story in the midst of all of the zombie chaos (which never got very gory, by the way). The cast took their roles seriously and I never felt stupid or sheepish for enjoying the film. It helped that in addition to the leads, the supporting cast was strong as well, with standouts including Matt Smith (yes, the Eleventh Doctor) and Lena Headey (Cersei as
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, fierce zombie assassin = perfection) really getting into their somewhat comedic roles. I also thought that with a film like this, the director would almost be expected to try and get away with it looking kind of cheap and being shot in a straightforward manner, but that was never the case here. Believe it or not there was some really gorgeous cinematography by Remi Adefarasin, including a few memorable pan-outs to aerial views that have stuck with me.

As I was getting ready to publish this review, a friend wrote me to ask if I'd seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies yet. She had been given advanced passes and confessed that she "kinda loved it." I told her I felt the same. So that makes two of us...

Will the rest of you give it the chance it deserves? Or are you going to be all Mr. Darcy about it and assume it's beneath you? Your loss if you do! I think it makes for a fun movie night. If you end up seeing it, let me know if you agree. And be sure you stay a few minutes after the credits start rolling.

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