Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Sleepwalking, by Rudie Obias
There’s just something about mixing movie genres that can be really exciting. Movies like From Dusk Til Dawn and Never Let Me Go prove that striking a balance between two very different genres can bring out the best in both, revitalizing what we thought we had a handle on. Unfortunately, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies doesn’t fit as either a good Jane Austen adaptation or a zombie movie with tension and gore. However, it partially succeeds thanks in part to some of its charming cast.
Everything you need to know about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PPZ) comes from its title. It’s a somewhat-faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, only with zombies injected into the setting and plot. One of the most clever ways the film brings an audience into its world is during it’s opening credits sequence, which places our characters in a post-apocalyptic 19th Century where the undead threaten the way of life of Regency-era England. The movie follows Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and her family’s pursuit to marry her off into a successful and wealthy family, only to find that she’s perfectly independent, a skilled warrior, and an excellent zombie killer. She has potential suitors who try to “tame” her to their way of life, while she’s only concerned with her family and survival.
PPZ fails as a Jane Austen adaptation because it doesn’t seem to understand the satire or biting wit that comes from reading (or watching a good movie adaptation of) Pride and Prejudice. Its potential male suitors for Elizabeth or the Bennet daughters don’t have an ounce a charisma or personality that anyone could find pleasing. Instead, they’re superficially attractive and simply dark and brooding without any proper context or backstory. The clever satire on Old English way of life or aristocracy also seems to be completely missing from PPZ, as zombies and the way in which to slay them don’t quite mesh with the original (Jane Austen or Seth Grahame-Smith’s mashup). The wealthy study the Japanese martial arts to kill the undead, while the lower classes study Chinese Shaolin style. Neither are ever really pressed upon in the movie because the action is just hideous.
Directed by Burr Steers, PPZ also doesn’t succeed as a zombie movie because there is very little in the way of tension or a palpable threat. When you don’t feel that anyone in the main cast can die at any moment, then you completely fail as a zombie movie. With no blood and gore, Steers tries to be creative with the zombie kills with dumb point-of-view camera angles that just really come off as lazy and uninventive. All the action is hidden behind dark scenes and clumsy medium shots that it’s almost impossible to get any thrilling or excitement when zombies are threatening the living. The big question is: Why emphasize Asian martial arts style when you can’t see the beauty of it on the big screen?
One of the only real saving graces of PPZ is the magnificent Lily James. She was charming in last year’s Cinderella and she’s just as captivating and lovely in this movie. She’s a real star with a strong presence as Elizabeth Bennett. James makes PPZ tolerable and somewhat amusing, but almost everything around her just gets in the way. She’s much better than the movie she’s in, which is why it’s really frustrating when a movie has a good premise and interesting cast, but doesn’t capitalize on its wonderful elements. Matt Smith and Lena Headey also provide some points of interest as the potential suitor Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, respectively, but there’s simply not enough of them in the movie to recommend it.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is slightly entertaining, while it doesn’t even live up to the title. Yes, there is some Pride and some Prejudice and a whole shit load of Zombies, but it’s only a very superficial and unexciting version of the genre mashup that was promised.