February 5, 2016
The title of this film alone is such a striking oxymoron I simply had to go watch it. I first heard of this title as a book when "Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter" film came out in 2012. These two best-selling genre-mixing novels were written by the same author, Seth Grahame-Smith. I liked Lincoln-Vampire mashup, so this one should be good too.
Like, the original classic by Jane Austen, this story is set in England in the early 19th century. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five unmarried daughters. Their new neighbor, the rich and eligible Mr. Bingley immediately got smitten with Jane, the eldest and prettiest sister. However, the even richer Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley's aloof friend, immediately got into conflict with the second-eldest and more head-strong sister, Elizabeth.
In this twisted version though, the whole romantic comedy of manners is told in the background of a rising zombie apocalypse threatening to overrun the entirety of England. Therefore, the Bennet girls had all gone to China to train to be skillful fighters to protect their town against the zombie menace.
"Pride and Prejudice" described the class struggles in the name of romance so well that even with absurd elements like a zombie invasion, it remains to be so good, and delightful to watch. The witty exchange of words is timeless, just as sharp now as it was back then. I have seen the previous film version starring Oscar-nominated Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden as Elizabeth and Darcy. To be fair, the new young actors in this version certainly did very well in their portrayal of the reluctant lovers as well.
Lily James was a feisty, strong and kickass Elizabeth Bennet. Sam Riley had the arrogant and mysterious air required for the role of Mr. Darcy. You can really feel the romantic chemistry between these two even when they were antagonistic with each other. Jack Huston was convincing as Mr. Wickham, a military man whom Elizabeth admired but with whom Darcy was at odds. Bella Heathcote and Douglas Booth make a very handsome couple as Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley. Matt Smith is a constant scene-stealer as the awkwardly hilarious pastor, Mr. Collins.
A couple of Game of Thrones actors shine in smaller roles. Charles Dance plays against his usual tough-guy stance this time. As the good-hearted and progressive patriarch Mr. Bennet. Dance was actually delightful and smiling. Lena Headey is very much in her element as the imposing Lady Catherine de Bourgh, eyepatch and all. The development of her character in the story though leaves something to be desired.
Cinematography, production design, costumes, makeup and visual effects were all meticulously well-done. It was just too bad that the screen in the cinema where i watched was so dimly lit, so I could hardly see what was happening in those dark scenes. I liked the paper cutout style animation that accompanied the opening credits. By the way, there will be a short extra scene in the middle of the closing credits, so do not leave right away.
As a whole, I liked this unlikely mix of gentility and gore by director Burr Steers, who also wrote the adapted screenplay from both Grahame-Smith and Austen herself. As these two genres are diametrically opposed to each other, many purists may not like the combination. Personally, I thought it was all ingenious and very entertaining, though I was expecting more from the zombie aspect of the project. Classics fans should not worry because Jane Austen's witticism certainly survives the zombie onslaught here. 8/10.