Sunday, February 14, 2016

Women in Horror: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

* spoilers *

Regency Era England has been overrun by zombies, drastically changing its inhabitants every day lives. Ladies are no longer able to focus on manners, music, dancing, and parties, but now have to train in martial arts in order to survive. Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters are more focused on survival than good marriage prospects, but their frivolous mother insists that they go to parties and act properly to be married off later. Elizabeth meets Fitzwilliam Darcy, a most detestable, unpleasant man but also one of the most skilled zombie hunters. They differ in almost every opinion from how to treat the not wholly infected sentient zombies to her sister Jane's affections for Darcy's close friend Bingley. Can they put aside their differences enough to work together to defeat a bigger, more organized zombie opposition than ever before?

If I'm being honest, the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie came out at least 2 years too late. The craze was pretty big for a time when the book, its prequel, and its sequel were released along with a whole slew of copycat mashups. Now, I think it isn't doing as well as hoped because the craze has passed. It's disappointing because I quite enjoyed the film. The book has a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart because it was the very first review I ever wrote here. However, the film is superior to the book in almost all ways because it tempers some of the more ridiculous elements of the book, expands the world, stays fairly faithful to the original Jane Austen, and creates a main villain to focus the story. It essentially fixes the things that felt a little off in the novel. The book had some crazy stuff happening that just stretched the imagination a tad. These women ripping out hearts and fighting with aristocracy when Regency England is still pretty intact just went a little too far for me. The PG-13 rating doesn't hurt it a bit. I barely noticed as I was enjoying the film except in the nonexistent blood splatter from killing zombies, unlike others that feel censored for a lower rating to reach a wider audience.

The world is expanded in this version of the story. The background of how everything came to be is told in a delightfully macabre popup book style in the beginning of the film. The creation of the giant wall around London, the explanation of the In-between, and everything else pertinent to why the world is like this is answered in the first few minutes of the film. The zombies are also different. Someone bitten by a zombie can look completely normal and pass a human with all the same faculties until they eat human brains. Then they are the stereotypical mindless zombie. This new development is intriguing and opens up a lot of different possibilities. Absolutely anyone could be infected. Throughout the film, small details are what make the film so enjoyable. At the very beginning, Darcy is put into a chamber nude to check for bites. This should be pretty standard everywhere because zombies could be anyone. Even the costuming reflects the world. Japanese and Chinese fighting styles are learned for survival, so normal Regency era dresses are paired with coats and jackets with a touch of Asian style assimilated into it. Women wear pants due to necessity and it isn't a scandal as it would have been. I enjoyed the changes to the novel and how the film makes the changes and the rules of the world clear to the audience.

The romantic tale of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet is intact and taken seriously. It would have been a completely different film if it was very tongue-in-cheek and cheesy, but I think it was successful in seeing how this story would really be with zombies. Darcy is as infuriating and rude as ever, portrayed gruffly by Sam Riley and Elizabeth is as fiery as ever, played by Lily James. Darcy is kind of a mystery for most of the film until his letter, but Elizabeth wears her heart on her sleeve. She loves her sisters unconditionally and will fight (literally in this case) to defend them. Her family isn't the richest or the most influential, so the aristocrats, including Darcy, his friends and family, and Lady Catherine look down upon them for their social standing and ignore their deeds, which include skillfully killing countless zombies. I particularly enjoyed the fight between Darcy and Elizabeth and of course the ending. The verbal fight had in the book is changed to sparring between the two. They obviously don't mean to kill each other, but prefer to cut with their words. The very ending is as always heartwarming and brought me to tears, even surrounded by the undead.

The film has a particular focus because of a zombie prophecy and one decided villain. The prophecy claims that an antichrist will rise to lead the zombies into the end of humanity. This turns out to be the villainous George Wickham. In the original story, he tries to extort money from Darcy, spreads word of Darcy's fictional wrongdoings, and eventually marries Lydia Bennet after being bribed by Darcy. He does most of these things in the film, but in addition, he is the antichrist figure to give the zombies direction. Zombies with strategy as numerous as they are can be devastating with the right person in charge. I think it's a great use of the awful Wickham to expand his character and make him a traitor and a zombie in addition to a lowlife womanizing cad. All of the characters were memorable and fun except for the younger Bennet girls. Matt Smith as Reverend Collins was a scene-stealing delight every time he was onscreen. He was so oblivious to anything outside of his own view. Jane and Bingley's romance was remarkably sweet. The Bennet girls (outside of Jane and Elizabeth) were pretty interchangeable and I would have gotten them mixed up had they not had one distinguishing characteristic each.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a fun addition to the regular Austin fare. The few problems I had were pretty minor. Lena Headey is usually exception, but she felt like a much too young caricature of Lady Catherine (plus I wanted the reveal that her daughter was a zombie). I hated the dressing scene where the Bennet sisters sheathe weapons around their undergarments. It's obnoxiously in every ad and an obvious ploy to get the assumed horror crowd (young men) to watch the film. Also, near the end of the film where Darcy lies to Elizabeth and lets her think her sister died is annoying. She's just as formidable a fighter and she doesn't need him to fight her battles for her. Regency England still has along way to go as seen with Collins trying to bribe the Bennet's for Jane's hand, but the scene seemed out of character for Darcy and simply unnecessary. I know it's not in the film, but the Hot Topic lingerie line that was released inspired by the film is also ridiculous. How can you watch the film and think about designing lingerie? I would love to have Elizabeth's coat or any of the dresses in the film, but they decided to make barely functional underwear instead. The ending is clearly left open for a sequel that I would love to see, but doesn't seem likely based on its earnings.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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