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‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’: World War Zzzzzs (Review & Roundup)

'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies': World War Zzzzzs (Review & Roundup)

The Shaolin-trained swordswomen of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” — none other than the five Bennet sisters of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel — never attend a ball unprepared. Knives sheathed under their elaborate gowns, the Bennets are as skilled in the art of war as the art of dance, and they eradicate an infestation of zombies at the wealthy, handsome Mr. Bingley’s sprawling estate without batting an eyelash (or busting out of their corsets, for that matter). If only Burr Steers’ adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestselling curio were as quick on its feet as its battalion of heroines: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” holds out the promise of an energetic quadrille, but it staggers along like the undead.

In the aftermath of a barely contained zombie plague — explained in the opening credits’ lovely “Illustrated History,” reminiscent of a pop-up book — the residents of Regency England come out from hiding to hold dances and arrange marriages, occasionally setting aside social etiquette to decapitate an assailant, but the humor of this strange premise struggles to gain purchase. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” stops and starts like a car in need of a new gearbox: shifting from romance to action to comedy to horror, you can practically hear the grinding, each clumsy transition a reminder that Steers doesn’t quite know which elements to highlight and which to temper. (It doesn’t help that he ultimately lands on a near-apocalyptic war with the undead, the subject of the only sustained sequence in the film, that turns out to be so dull I wondered if I’d become a zombie watching it.) Rather than juggle its genre influences, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” sets one down to move on to the next, becoming a Frankenstein’s monster of spare parts.

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other,” a catty noblewoman remarks at one point, and the film misapprehends its own pleasures in much the same way, slipping into lifeless action sequences and surprisingly bloodless horror even as its broad comedy chances once or twice into real cleverness. When Mr. Darcy (the dour Sam Riley) springs a marriage proposal on Elizabeth Bennet (the charming Lily James), the result is something like wish fulfillment, at least for those of us who remember reading “Pride and Prejudice” while dreaming up what Lizzie might say were she allowed a moment of impertinence. Here their verbal sparring turns physical, a satisfying, witty kick to the stomach that destroys a drawing room — and underlines Austen’s own challenge to social graces in the process. For a moment, at least, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” rediscovers the delights of Austen’s novel by making explicit what its author could only suggest, which is that the longest war in the land is the one between the sexes.

Andrew Barker, Variety
“Gimmick or no, the novel managed to combine its warring
components charmingly: Such squeamish readers as cannot bear to connect their
Georgian-era drawing-room comedies with brain chomping and exploding heads are
not worth a regret. In director-screenwriter Burr Steers’ filmic adaptation,
however, there seems a gulf impassable between them, and the film’s cast must
learn to be content with being cleverer than the material deserves.” 

Fionnuala Halligan, Screen
“Apart from Matt Smith, who brightens proceedings, and the
amiable pairing of James and Riley, ‘Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’ may slide
lifelessly from resumes of a cast and crew who are set for better things. It
can’t be Austen; Whit Stillman’s inspired ‘Love & Friendship,’ which
premiered at Sundance, proved yet again that the lady has cinematic legs — the
genre mash-up, however, must surely have one foot in the grave.” 

Nick de Semlyen, Empire

“The problems begin with the set-up: this is a world where
the threat is nothing new, where country estates have been fortified and ladies
carry blades beneath their corsets. That means that none of the characters
worry too much about the decomposing bastards — and for long stretches, the
film appears to forget about them too.” 

Tom Huddleston, Time Out

“By far the most enjoyable scenes here are those in which
James and her sisters engage in girly gossip while cleaning rifles, polishing
samurai swords and beating the crap out of each other. It’s the zombies that
are the problem: watering down the violence for teenage audiences and playing
fast and loose with undead mythology (zombies can talk now, apparently), the
film flatlines the moment anyone draws a blade.”

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