Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
By Ben Gruchow
February 11, 2016
Not for nothing does the first real zombie encounter happen outside of a party, at which we’ve spent the preceding 20 minutes watching the Bennets go back and forth about the virtues of pairing off for status and image, and there’s the unmistakable feeling of stratification in the plot line, where the zombies are simply another, lower level of class - a nuisance and spoiler rather than a supernatural threat.
It seems silly, I know, to deconstruct and analyze metaphor and character motivation for this film, but the title is telling: the “and Zombies” bit is an added flourish onto what’s at heart a slick and YA-friendly remake of Pride and Prejudice. It has that look of elaborate chintziness about it that we get from mid-grade, second-string youth-oriented films like The Other Boleyn Girl and Tristan and Isolde: no matter how authentic the locations may be, they still look primarily like underlit sets, and no matter how much period attire you throw onto any of the characters, they still have the unfailingly fresh-faced and well-manicured look of a ready-made CW cast member. Rather than the sense that the cast is inhabiting their characters, we get a sense of shallow imitation. But I’ll say this: as much as it is lacking in conviction and depth, it’s a reasonably faithful retelling of a good story, and it follows each character’s arc accurately, if not altogether effectively.
That first zombie encounter outside the party, by the way, has a nicely gruesome punch line to it for a PG-13 film, one that works literally and on the level of light metaphor. It’s a shame that the action sequence that follows it - and the others that take place throughout the runtime, up to and including the movie’s climactic events - is so paint by numbers in such a hectic and choppy way. There reaches a point where a scene has one cut too many and one camera movement too many, and the events onscreen disappear into sludgy mass of movement that’s almost impossible to parse.
I sat fairly close to the screen in a large-format theater, so the action sequences in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might pop with a little more clarity from further back, or on a smaller screen. But I don’t think that’s likely the case; I’ve sat about as close to screenings of several large-scale films without the attendant confusion, and I think the culprits here are simply poor framing and editing. It’s not insignificant that this wouldn’t be nearly the issue it is were the movie more focused on its subtext. For that, the movie’s level of intelligence was higher than I expected and higher than it probably needed to be. It’s the third-best film of 2016 I’ve seen thus far; take from that what you will.