Wednesday, February 3, 2016

[IGH] At The Movies: Review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

If you were going to come up with the most ridiculous premise for a big-budget Hollywood film, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better one than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Although the title sounds like it came from a round of Cards Against Humanity, the story has a surprisingly solid premise and makes for a fun and unique movie experience.

You’ve probably heard of the literary classic Pride & Prejudice. Originally published more than two hundred years ago in 1813, Jane Austen's beloved classic novel tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet as she struggles with the societal expectations put upon her in 19th century England. So how in the world do we go from navigating social customs of differing classes to zombie apocalypse?  It actually all comes back to that fantastic title.

Jason Rekulak, the publisher of Quirk Books, was working on parody ideas by combining classic pop-culture character troupes (Ninjas, Pirates, Zombies) with literary classics whose rights are in public domain. When he stumbled across the idea of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” the idea stuck and he shared it with writer Seth Grahame-Smith. Seth took the original work and created an alternate reality where he could incorporate not only the zombie apocalypse, but a heavy infusion of Asian martial arts and weaponry.

Those familiar with the original story (or its Wikipedia page) will be surprised just how much of the original plot is maintained despite the otherworldly additions; however in this dark timeline a great plague came to England from the colonies and with it the undead began to rise and threaten all. The plague has taken hold of England for some time when the story begins and the threat of zombie attacks has become the standard for England’s residents.

Any move with “zombie” right in the title evokes images of the horror classics of the past, but PPZ is anything but a horror film. The overall tone is much more in line with modern action franchises (think Underworld instead of Dawn of the Dead) and there is surprisingly little gore considering the volume of zombies littering the countryside. The effects, gore and otherwise, are never too over the top or CGI to distract from the action. When it does come time for action there is plenty to be had, both in the form of epic zombie mob battles and intimate one-on-one fights between the main characters.

The film features great performances from a cast that has some experience in both period drama and epic fantasy. Lily James may be best known for her role in Downton Abbey, but has upped the intensity a hundred-fold as the Shaolin-trained Elizabeth Bennet. She is a strong female lead who is always ready to draw her sword in defense of her family. Another big name and equally big performance comes from Charles Dance as Elizabeth’s father, Mr. Bennet. Charles plays the role of elder badass and military-focused father all too well as Game of Thrones fan know. Sam Riley plays the infamous Mr. Darcy and perfected the balance of being both pompous and likeable at the same time. His chemistry with Lily’s Elizabeth is apparent from their first moment on screen together.

In addition to the action-focus there are a number of lighthearted and humorous moments. You can’t help but be amused by the matter-of-fact way that zombie defense and combat are discussed by characters in such an otherwise proper setting. Matt Smith, who portrays Mr. Collins, is essentially the comic-relief throughout much of the story and does so fantastically. He will not be unfamiliar to fans of his role as the Doctor as he basically goes full-Who with his awkward and occasionally absurd performance.

I also need to warn zombie-purists that you are in for a host of atypical zombie types throughout. The lore of the plague is actually quite interesting and you’ll see zombies getting up to all kinds of activities you won’t expect. I think this is a welcome departure from the tried and true zombie troupes as you don’t necessarily see things coming. With your normal slow and dumb zombies the threat is much more limited and predictable. There are many original-style zombies in the mix, so there’s a bit more suspense as you see zombies evolve.

Overall I though Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a fun experience. In spite of the fact that it is a classic story mixed with a tired pop-culture cliche the story feels fresh and original. I think the oddest reaction I had afterwards was that I actually want to read the original now so that I can better understand where the parody diverged. If you’re looking for a silly and fun movie this weekend I would definitely recommend PPZ. This movie knows what it is, why you went to see it and it owns that fact with Pride.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is out on February 5th, 2016.

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