Little Box of Horrors: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies
Our destination: York Beach, Maine. Our mission: find a movie so bad it’s good. The outlook: grim. This time we let the movie-goer help out, as we pick from films they panned at the theaters last year.
The summer movie season. Hollywood churns out film after film in hopes of your hard earned dollar. Sometimes their advances get spurned. Hard. Out of the ten films that flopped hardest, a few of them have Best-Worst potential.
- Gods of Egypt (2016). This movie feels like it is trying just too damned hard. It seems like it wants the machismo of 300, the spectacle of Transformers, and the gravitas of The Ten Commandments. I’ve already told you how thirsty the marketing was. Audiences gave it a mouthful of sand instead.
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016). I have to wonder if shareholders force studios to release movies every week out of some stupid misconception that income is always good. Why the hell did this movie try and compete with the SuperB*wl? Listen, I could give out 1 cent handjobs that day and still not make a dime if the sale conflicted with the halftime show.
- Monster Trucks (2016). HAHAHAHAHA…no.
Let’s see which film the ushers ejected from the theater right into my waiting arms….
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
I read the novel of the same name that started the whole “let’s put monsters into genre fiction” craze. I wasn’t all that impressed. The whole affair seemed like a one punch joke that had very little stamina. I also thought it would have been better in a visual medium. Well, here’s my wish, come true. Let us see if I should have gone with what was in the other hand.
A story of difficulties both marital and martial.
Elizabeth Bennet is the 2nd daughter in a family with all daughters in Georgian England. As such, it is of vital importance to her mother to see each daughter married to men of means. Women can’t hold property and thus rely on marriage to secure a future. Adding to the families concerns was a struggle of a completely different nature: the zombie apocalypse. England had gained vast wealth through trade, but had also contracted a foreign disease that made those infected feel a bit peckish… for human brains. On the ropes, London walled itself in and moated the countryside around it to ward off the ever increasing number of living dead.
Despite all that, things were looking up for the Bennets. All five daughters were the Amazonian Ideal: gifted with intelligence, compassion, beauty, and martial prowess. A local Lord, Mr. Bingley, has taken up a residence near the Bennets, and the matriarch is keen to have her daughters presented before him; especially Jane, the eldest. At the presentation ball Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy, the stern and peevish friend of Mr. Bingley, who also happens to be the pre-eminent zombie hunter. With all the players assembled, we begin a tale of status, conflicting preconceptions, complicated love… and zombies.
A Tale of Two Stories
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is by the very nature of its “hook” two genres smashed together. This can make telling a coherent tale difficult. An engrossing one even more difficult. And at 1 hour and 48 minutes, it’s a near impossibility.
The task at hand was to capture the essence of Pride and Prejudice: the plot lines, the manner of speech, the cultural norms, the fancy gowns, and gorgeous architecture of Regency era England. Then to that they have to graft a zombie apocalypse. And while they do a good job of the former (except a noticeable decision to tone down affectations of the Queen’s English), they don’t really go anywhere with the latter.
Zombie movies tend to flounder when the screenwriters can’t decide what to do with them. Do you play into the patent absurdity of the walking dead for a laugh? Use them to create tension and drama? Use them as a metaphor? Pride and Prejudice and Zombies goes hunting for all three hares and catches none. They use the zombies for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer “delicate flowers kicking ass” trope. Zombie peril substitutes for the military strife of the era. They also use the zoning off of London and the status symbol of being a zombie hunter (the rich learn to kill in Japan, the poorer nobility must make do with Chinese kung-fu) to jab the cultural norms of the time. None of it comes together as immensely satisfying. The plot ambles along just fine without them. And the major beats of the Jane Austen original suffer for their presence.
Grace under fire.
As such, the movie relies upon its actors, and they deliver. All the background characters do a fine job, and if you like Game of Thrones this will feel like a family reunion. Matt Smith (the Nth Doctor Who, I lost count ages ago) is the weak link, but he does what he’s always done (overact) and some people like that. It is in our leads, Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) that the movie rises above the “just decent” level.
It Takes Two to
Tango Ballroom Dance
Riley’s Darcy is just right; stuffy and peevish from being a noble, grim and succinct from being charged with London’s day-to-day survival. He’s even handsome in a dour, almost emo way. It all works and is made better by how that gloom is juxtaposed by James’ Elizabeth.
Lily James is the star of the show in all senses: she’s the warm glue that keeps all her wildly distinct sisters together; she’s the cool pragmatist that manages the family’s survival and training, and she’s the hot firebrand that hates the social status quo. James is extremely expressive, and all those little things in her portrayal tie all the disparate threads of this jumbled affair together.
Case in point: When she meets Darcy for the first time, we get a tempest of emotions that dance across her face all at once. It was the standout moment where I decided to like the proceedings. She hates balls so she pouts when she should smile… until she sees Darcy enter the room. Going from petulant to stunned to gawky flowed naturally, and was about as damn charming as it gets. And you know how I feel when I have to use that word.
Much Ado about Zombies
This movie could have been perfectly fine as just a new version of Pride and Prejudice. The cast is strong, and the two leads work well. The zombies add nothing of real value to the proceedings, either in spectacle or humor. If they really wanted to take the time to bounce the zombies off of Georgian society, playing that absurdity off a society that was both ostentatious and oppressive, a six part series would probably have been a better choice. I could have seen this being a nice one season event on HBO or Starz. As a movie, and a relatively short one at that, the zombies just end up detracting from the real story.
At the end of the day, I came for cheese, and the film told me to eat cake instead. It was a very nice cake, if only the flies would stop buzzing around it.
But that’s two good movies out of the last three trips to RedBox, so things seem to be looking up for us. Maybe next time we’ll hit pay-dirt.