Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Not strong enough to be a full-fledged action film nor a period drama that so happens to have comedic elements, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” based on a parody novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, only entertains when gimmick is still fresh. As it goes on, however, one grows tired of the formula. There is a lack of substance in the characters, their unique situation lacks lasting intrigue, and the supposed war between the humans and the undead is not at all convincing.
The material excels in pointing out and making fun of societal niceties in an era drenched in very deceptive social graces. The jabs land fast and hard and so there is a freshness and breeziness among the exchanges. Particularly enjoyable, as it should be, are banters between our heroine Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley). We already know they must begin to like one another romantically sooner or later, but there are moments that pack real sting. One can make a convincing case the the dialogue is more exciting and has more grit than the action sequences.
Would-be exciting battle scenes between highly trained zombie killers and brain-eaters are rarely, if ever, effective. Notice how such scenes are shot and presented. The editing is quite choppy as to create a mere semblance of urgency, the framing is either from the waist up or numerous closeups are mistakenly employed. Facial expressions end up being the focus as opposed to impressive acrobatics. When there is a full body shot, the performers’ head and feet tend to reach the top and bottom of the screen. As a result, usually we only see images near them. Thus, the scale of the battle is lost and so we are not convinced they are really caught up in any life or death mayhem.
Although the period pieces are lovely to look at, from the dresses women wear and coats men sport to the makeup applied as to highlight specific faces’ strongest features, the look of the zombies is completely wrong. CGI is used far too often to the point where every time an undead’s face is shown, it is almost comical. There is nothing scary about them. It might have been far more convincing if a digital approach were thrown out the window altogether and instead took on a more tactile approach like using actual paint, masks, or makeup.
Personality is eventually drained out of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” directed and based on the screenplay by Burr Steers, which is an elementary mistake because its inspiration, Jane Austen’s classic novel “Pride and Prejudice,” gets more interesting as it progresses. In the book, when secrets are revealed, they command gravity. Not here. It feels as though revelations must occur in order to progress the plot. Although the film captures our interest, it fails to do anything special or worthwhile to keep our affections. It does not have the vision or the ambition to go beyond the artificial idea of zombies plaguing the Regency era.