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New Release Review - PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES

Jane Austen's novel falls foul of the zombie apocalypse.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Burr Steers

Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance, Lena Headey



It's difficult to decipher which audience the film is attempting to court. Horror fans will be bored senseless by its sensibility, while Austen devotees will need more than a little persuasion to view this as anything other than blasphemy.



With Jane Austen's work freely available in the public domain, technically anyone can take one of her novels and rewrite it however they choose. That's what writer Seth Grahame-Smith did for his 2009 bestseller Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, taking Austen's most popular novel and adding a zombie apocalypse to the proceedings. Austen purists vomited a little in their mouth, but susceptible fanboys lapped it up, and so now we have the inevitable screen adaptation.
Burr Steers' movie gets off to a promising start with a cleverly staged pre-credits sequence that (falsely) reassures us we're in for a fun blast. Set in a version of 18th century Britain in which a zombie plague has been unleashed, the film opens with noted zombie dispatcher Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley) arriving at an estate home, where he interrupts a game of whist, claiming one of the players is a zombie. Here, you see, zombification happens in gradual stages, so early stage zombies resemble ordinary humans. Taking his cue from Dario Argento's Phenomena, Darcy uses flies to identify the undead. His target unveiled, Darcy proceeds to spray blood across the good china by taking out the zombie card player before we cut to a nicely animated credits sequence that outlines the dynamics of this world.
Sadly, it's all downhill after the credits. Bafflingly, the movie plays out its nonsensical drama with a straight face, and there are long stretches during which you forget this has been pitched as a horror comedy. Most of the film resembles a second rate British period drama - the undead are conspicuous by their absence for far too much of the film. When they do appear, Steers can't find anything interesting for the zoms to do; his action scenes are bland and uninventive. The best zombie films (i.e those made by George A Romero) have served as allegory, but the potential to satirise the British class system - with the surviving upper class fighting off the unwashed hordes - isn't remotely explored here.
Lily James, God bless her, does her best in the lead role, but it's time she hung up her corset and start to explore contemporary roles, as she's in severe danger of finding herself ghettoised in the world of costume drama. The leaden Sam Riley is miscast as a decidedly uncharismatic Darcy, and looks for all the world like he really doesn't want to be here. Only Matt Smith, as an obnoxiously camp parson, seems to understand he's in a comedy.
It's difficult to decipher which audience the film is attempting to court. Horror fans will be bored senseless by its sensibility, while Austen devotees will need more than a little persuasion to view this as anything other than blasphemy.
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