Silver Screen Resolution: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

In 2017, I resolved to see twelve new-to-me spec fic movies in an attempt at catching up with popular culture. One movie per month, the results of watching said movie discussed at the beginning of the next month. I made myself some rules.

  1. It must be spec-fic. For review here on Spec-Chic and for myself. I just prefer it.  Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror. Even kid’s movies if they fit one of those genres!
  2. For the most part, the movie must be popular spec-fic. Something people around me have been talking about.
  3. I have to see at least a third of them in the theater, for the truest “in the moment” connection. This rule was amended. Movies seen in theater will be part of the Sound Off! instead of the Silver Screen Resolution posts.

The final movie on my 2017 Silver Screen Resolution was Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which I considered just because… I was flailing about for some recognizable title, and when I mentioned it, a commenter said it was entertaining. I also thought something mindless would be a nice thing to watch during the peak of the holiday season when tired and cranky is my primary state of mind.

Okay, so this is the thing. I really admire Jane Austen’s writing both as a reader and on a technical level. So when the mash-up books came out, I was extraordinarily dubious. Then after dipping into them — at the long lost, deeply mourned local Borders — I was appalled. At best Pride & Prejudice & Zombies was a slipshod pastiche; at worst, it seemed to mock the book it shoved zombies into. I slapped it back on the shelf and snarled at its very mention from that point on.

And yet… I’d decided to watch the movie, and added to my list. It seemed cowardly to change my mind just because of literary snobbery. When I talked about watching Arrival, I was worried that the language of the amazing story it’s based on wouldn’t come through. But with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies… I was hoping it wouldn’t! This is a movie that had to be better than it’s “source” material, argh, why you had to torture Jane Austen’s memories, and turn incisively drawn characters into caricatures….

Anyway, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies was my last resolution project movie.

What did I think?

Well…

Okay, there are some movies you watch because they’re supposed to be good. There are movies you watch that aren’t good, but are more than competent at what they set out to do and end up being an unobjectionable watching experience (Spectral was a good example of that.). Then there are bad movies that are surprisingly entertaining. And then there are bad movies that are excruciating slogs.

I was hoping for bad but highly entertaining.

And hey! I got it!

So yeah. I enjoyed Pride & Prejudice & Zombies more than I had any right to, or reason to expect.

I’m not going to worry too much about spoilers because really if you know Pride and Prejudice, you know the character’s fates, and if you’ve ever watched a bog-standard zombie action movie, you how the action will go.

And since it’s obviously such a B-movie wanna-be, let’s reverse my usual thing, and start with:

The Bad: I don’t like to pick on actors, but my god, I had never ever imagined Darcy being quite that nasal. Or that lacking in charisma. Or Bingley being so… sort of feckless. No, wait, Bingley is totally a golden retriever of a person, and always has been, swayed this way and that by his friends and family. But jeez, the word vapid kept coming to mind. Sweet, but vapid.

Sweet, but a puppy.

I didn’t think the Bennets’ social status — their weird sort of hovering on the bare edge of respectable — really came through here. Yes, they talk about Darcy being rich, and Lady De Bourgh having impeccable breeding, but it’s in a zombie landscape! I kind of wondered where Darcy’s money was coming from if the world was being slowly eaten alive by zombies. De Bourgh’s wealth seemed more to the point, allowing her a well-maintained and secure estate safe from zombies. But then this is a movie about zombies and zombie killing, so the nods back to wealth and status felt like nods and nothing more.

The zombies are weirdly incidental, in ways that sometimes strained disbelief. Zombies have eaten and killed their neighbors and yet Mrs. Bennet still feels sanguine in sending Jane off to Bingley’s estate through zombie infested woods on horse instead of in a coach with a faulty pistol for defense. (Though there is zero discussion of endangering the coachman. The servants are still disposable.) Her grasping nature just doesn’t match the storyline. If she’d wanted her daughters to marry rich so they could all escape this zombie infested land, that would be one thing.

It also makes a weird glitch because a) everyone fears Darcy because he’s a known and ruthless zombie killer, willing to kill anyone even if he has doubts of their infection, yet b) he’s a super-eligible bachelor.

Yeah, SUPER-ELIGIBLE, not lurky at all….

And we can’t let go the racist origin of the zombies. “From the colonies there came not just silks and spices but a virulent and abominable plague.” They immediately then say, they blamed the French, but yeah, we know what they really meant, and which colonies they meant.

There are some classist moments, but they’re weirdly unintentional. There’s a moment in the very beginning where Darcy has just beheaded a zombie in the middle of a whist party, then asks if there are any other people who might have been infected. “No,” the hostess lies, covering for the zombie’s niece. Then of course, it’s revealed that not only is the niece also a zombie, but she’s been munching on the servants, none of whom were ever considered as people at risk. Oh, the poor servants.

Yep, her reputation definitely needed protection. The servant? Pssh. They probably don’t even know his name.

When Jane’s ill at the Bingleys and Darcy’s suspicious, Mr. Bingley assures Elizabeth that she’s been well looked after. By the servants. Who apparently aren’t allowed to hide from potential zombie-infected people. The poor people suffer as well, which makes sense. They don’t have the money to build fortifications. And let’s not even get into the completely undefended orphans’ and widows’ home that gets eaten up without anyone noticing until zombie babies start being carried around.

And the core of this story is the very old British idea of if the zombies are intelligent, capable of controlling their appetites with pig brains, and capable of organizing into communities… it’s even more important to kill them all. Because god forbid their way of life have to change. Better to end up in a super-isolated, walled city, dying of slow in-breeding than to let those people in.

I mean, yes, they’re zombies and they will eat you, but… the inference is there, and I don’t think I’m being oversensitive.

Plus, the worldbuilding is just sort of sloppy. You could have a whole bunch of urgent reasons for Mrs. Bennet to want her daughters to marry — if men are off fighting the zombies, then yes, the marriageable men are in fact getting scarce. And yes, the human race is endangered, perhaps procreation is important. Those would be nice ways to shift her pretty much straight from the book comments about why the girls need to be married.

Not to mention, all the rules of male primogeniture might shift if most of the men are dying at the zombie front….

Whatever. It’s a zombie movie.

Just take a drink for all the poor, disregarded servants.

The neutral: The pacing. What the hell is up with that? I have never seen a movie (not saying much, mind you) with such… efficient pacing. There’s a lot of writing advice that says only show the reader the exciting moments. And this movie definitely tries to do that. Things just happen so rapidly, and the tone changes with each scene, so it’s a little dizzying. On the other hand, this is a nice short movie that manages to get in and out before it wears out its welcome.

But it also leads to really bizarre moments like Darcy’s heartfelt letter to Elizabeth that abruptly turns into a news from the front account.

Some of the book beats really don’t work that well, because the writers just don’t think things through. Jane fights off a zombie in the woods, gets rained on, and develops a sickness that requires bed rest. In the book, somehow it’s much more plausible that Jane, a sheltered girl, gets sick after getting rained on. Here, when Jane is a seasoned warrior… not so much. But hey, why not just make her illness a reaction to the pistol blowing up in her hand? Shock from the wound? That would have required two seconds of rewrite, but no…. she got an “ague” from walking in the rain.

Bingley, as mentioned above, is a feckless golden retriever of a young man. Unintelligent, but sweet-natured. He runs into a zombie with Lizzy during a dance and falls and hits his head. So later, when he’s on the Zombie Front, and in a leadership position, I had to side-eye it and shudder.

The surprisingly entertaining: Matt Smith as the ever-obnoxious Mr. Collins. He made him still utterly obnoxious and terribly terribly funny. I loved every scene he was in.

Lena Headey as Lady Catherine De Bourgh with an eyepatch and a backstory of a woman warrior. She was a lot of fun. Her first “scene” is just a quick moment, but it made me laugh.

The methods for detecting zombies. Darcy wanders around with carrion flies in a vial that he can release. Because they love death. That was fun and led to a delightful scene of Elizabeth snagging the flies out of the air and returning them to him when he’d tried to figure out if Jane had been bitten by a zombie.

The physicality of the sisters. Their sibling arguments tend to break out into sparring, which was entertaining.

In any Pride & Prejudice adaptation, a lot hinges on Elizabeth and to a lesser extent, Jane. Here the two actresses were surprisingly solid with such strange material.

Jane, looking long-suffering. Elizabeth, looking irked. And Mary, just looking…

Wickham. Okay, Wickham is a reprehensible character in every incarnation and here he’s no different, but at least he had a nice grandeur about his self-delusions. I liked his evil zombie plans. And the actor who played Wickham had a sort of sleazy charisma that really worked. Plus, he’s not wrong about a lot of things. His goals are… not so hot, and he’s a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur and ill use. But he’s also not wrong about the hubris of the aristocrats, and about the fact that the zombies can “breed” faster than the humans, which take 18 years to make a fighter of any skill.

The Four Horsemen. Nicely creepy.

Despite Darcy’s weird nasal voice and his lurkiness, I really ended up rooting for him and Elizabeth. They have a certain presence together that he lacks in his other scenes. Which is probably better than the other way around.

The thing I never knew I wanted: Elizabeth responding to Darcy’s first, supercilious proposal by resorting to fisticuffs and kicking him across the room. The fight scene goes on too long, but it’s still something I never knew I wanted. I laughed. A lot.

The potential for a drinking game: extremely high: All you have to do is take a drink any time you run across a misfit scene that’s shoehorned in to this mass of zombie-hunting action to fill in the Pride and Prejudice bingo card.

Spurned at the Dance? Yup.

Elizabeth and Darcy speaking at cross purposes? Yup.

Elizabeth and Jane being supportive of each other? Yup!

Darcy in a wet shirt? We can make it happen! Even if it never happened in Austen’s book, it happens in the miniseries and that’s good enough canon for us!

It ended up being one of my favorite delights, watching the movie get wrenched back from zombie slaughter to hit a “classic” Jane Austen moment. But it’s also a good thing I wasn’t playing a drinking game or the movie would have been a blur soon on.

So to sum up:

Not good. I found it entertaining nonetheless. Except if you’re a servant.

All screencaps from imdb.com

5 Comments

  • Nicole Taft January 3, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    Yeah, the book was atrocious. I do, however, kind of almost want to see this just to see Matt Smith in that role. Otherwise it sounds like the movie pretty much follows the same sad line as the book – “Here, let’s take Pride & Prejudice and shove some zombie nonsense in there without adjusting ANYTHING else!”

    Reply
    • Lane Robins January 3, 2018 at 9:29 pm

      That would be correct, and yet… somehow in movie form, it’s so much more palatable. Even funny. It’s a movie I would watch more than once.

      Reply
  • Nicole Taft January 3, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    Ok also I just played the clip above and the second I heard Darcy’s voice said out loud, “OH MY GOD. Eugh. Why?” and then made a lot of “everything about this is terrible” faces.

    Reply
    • Lane Robins January 3, 2018 at 9:30 pm

      I know! It’s really startlingly nasal for a movie actor! It does become less noticeable as the movie goes on. But I’m 100% sure I made those exact same faces followed by slightly nutso laughter.

      Reply
  • Merrin January 9, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    Matt Smith was PERFECT as Mr. Collins. I didn’t particularly like this movie but I found it entertaining enough for what it was, but I want more Matt Smith in everything.

    Reply

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