Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Sisters doing it for themselves. As I'm sure the film would have said in the dialogue if it had the guts.

Director: Burr Steers
Cast: Lily James (Elizabeth Bennet), Sam Riley (Fitzwilliam Darcy), Jack Huston (Wickham), Bella Heathcote (Jane Bennet), Douglas Booth (Mr. Bingley), Matt Smith (Mr. Collins), Charles Dance (Mr. Bennet), Lena Headey (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Sally Phillips (Mrs. Bennet), Aisling Loftus (Charlotte Lucas)



Back in the 1990s, Harry Enfield and Chums did a sketch in which The Terminator (played by Martin Clunes) arrives in early 20th-century England, and spends a weekend at a country house searching for his victim. His violent antics are met with po-faced, stiff upper lip responses from the Upper Crust members of the household and uncomplaining reserve from the servants. It’s very funny. It sticks in the mind. It brilliantly mashes up costume drama with sci-fi drama. It’s five minutes long.

This film is effectively the same gag but stretched far beyond any possible welcome to an agonising 104 minutes, in which the same comic beat is repeated over and over again. “Oh look! Those posh girls/blokes in frocks are discussing tea and table arrangements! And now they are slaughtering a herd of zombies! While continuing the conversation! What larks!” 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was the poster child of a mercifully short-lived literary novelty: classic novels rewritten with genre elements. This trend also saw sea monsters inserted into Sense and Sensibility and hard-core sex scenes inserted into Jane Eyre (the worst of all, as the author had the cheek to suggest that Bronte would of course have got those scenes in if she could). It was a best-seller, but only in the sense that it was the ultimate ‘I-don’t-know-what-to-get-you-for-Christmas’ gag gift. But years after the moment had passed, the movie adaptation lumbered towards the big screen.

Morbid curiosity made me watch it (over several nights on Netflix, I hasten to add) and it’s exactly what it appears to be: a student sketch that is worthy of maybe a slight smile for the first few minutes, but then totally collapses the longer it goes on. Now I like Jane Austen films and I like zombie films but still I didn’t like this. Firstly it’s a terrible zombie film – the action moments are poorly shot and hard to follow, the action dull and the “laws” around the zombies in the movie are inconsistent (some zombies are super killers, others are lumbering brainless beasts). Secondly, all that Zombie stuff makes it a pretty bad Austen film. Worst of both worlds.

The Austen bits are (unsurprisingly) by far the best bits. There is a good cast here: Lily James and Matt Smith in particular would be very well cast in a proper adaptation. Anything interesting comes largely from Austen (the characters, the emotions, the bulk of the watchable stuff in the first half) anything dull from the source material (the zombies, the action, the final 30 minutes). The idea of society being fundamentally unchanged by a zombie invasion makes no sense at all (would money still be the driving factor in a world destroyed by the undead?). Much of the fighting involving the female characters has a slightly uncomfortable leering sexuality about it (“Look at those hot chicks pull knives from their undergarments! Phrroooaaahhh!!!!”) as well as being far too over choreographed. 

Zombies is a pointless film of a forgotten fad. It’s one of the worst zombie films ever made. It wastes our chance to see some of these actors give decent performances in a proper adaptation. Pleasingly, it bombed catastrophically at the box office, probably because it appeals to no one: the zombie action isn’t anywhere good enough to interest the genre fan, the Austen fan is more likely to bung on their Firth/Ehle DVD than check this mess out. None of them are missing anything. Zombies isn’t the must-see abomination it needed to be to have any shelf life – it’s a blatant attempt to rake some more cash from a horse flogged to death. If you want to get a sense of it, save yourself 135 minutes and watch that Harry Enfield sketch instead. I guarantee you’ll laugh a heck of a lot more.

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