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Film Reviews Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Comedy-horror fails to die, fails as film

Just like one-third of its subject matter, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a film that doesn’t know how to die.

Jay Maidment

1.5 out of 4 stars

Written by
Burr Steers
Directed by
Burr Steers
Starring
Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English

Just like one-third of its subject matter, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a film that doesn't know how to die. Despite every indication that the forces of fate were against it – three directors were hired before Burr Steers eventually took the helm; original star Natalie Portman was replaced by Lily James; the lit-mashup trend already hit a nadir four long years ago with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – the movie's producers continually clawed their way out of development hell in search of bloody, delicious braaaiiiins (ie., mindless audiences bored stiff by February's typically bloodless offerings).

Unlike the undead, however, there's nothing especially intriguing about Steers's film, which adapts Seth Grahame-Smith's one-trick pony of a novel. You know Grahame-Smith's work even if you've never read it: the book occupied a place near the cash register at your local Urban Outfitters and other hipster-kitsch purveyors for years, next to Quirk Books' line of other mashups, such as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters or Android Karenina. Far as I know, none of those titles is slated for film adaptations, and likely never will be after the world glimpses P&P&Z.

Like its source material – a loose term if there ever was one – Steers's movie is a failure across multiple fronts. Are we supposed to laugh as the Bennet sisters trade witty Regency-era banter while demonstrating their kung-fu skills? Are we obliged to wistfully sigh and become emotionally invested as Elizabeth (James) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) fight their attraction for one another while also fighting the undead? The film wants to be funny, yet also scary, and, oh, yes, it's also here to honour Jane Austen's novel of manners. It wants to have its cake and eat you, too.

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Perhaps with original director David Russell, the film could have delivered a bit of irreverent fun. Or maybe second directorial candidate Mike White could have brought his ultra-dry wit to the proceedings. Hell, even third runner-up Craig Gilespie showed he could balance both dark humour and sincerity in 2011's Fright Night. Instead, though, we're stuck with Steers, who is a long way from his best film (2002's Igby Goes Down) and not nearly far enough from his pair of Zac Efron-starring duds (2009's 17 Again and 2010's Charlie St. Cloud).

Steers can compose and capture a shot fine enough, but seems otherwise bored to be here. Each of his scenes collide lazily against the next; transitions are rushed and often ugly, and the director never seems to know what emotions he should be steering his cast toward. With the exception of an entertainingly caustic Riley, the actors are as lifeless as their foes (often poorly created CGI creatures whose viscera is far from visceral).

To be fair, things aren't entirely Steers's fault. The fact that Hollywood fought through so many delays and shrugged off so many missteps clearly indicates that the industry has no common sense when it comes to genre entertainment. Simply sticking zombies into a film will not yield easy creative dividends. And make no mistake, that's all this project is about: mere copying and pasting. It's a tossed-away joke of a film that might've made for a good tweet, once upon a time. Instead, producers decided it should be a brand unto itself.

As a filmgoing public, we could easily forgive their pride, if they had not mortified ours.

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