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Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: Bloody 19th century romance hits big screen

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Zombies have become a commercial plot device in today’s pop culture. Because they typically appear in contemporary contexts, it can be startling to imagine them wreaking havoc in a historical time period instead. But that happens with Burs Steers’ directorial effort, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Viewers are treated to an unusual juxtaposition of gore, romance, period drama and comedy – which surprisingly works.

Adapted from Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 book of the same name which was based on Jane Austen’s 1813 classic, “Pride and Prejudice,” the movie is set in early 19th century London where a mysterious virus, revealed to have arrived at England’s shores via ships, has caused people to turn into brain-hungry zombies. The film centers on Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) who simultaneously struggles with her growing feelings for Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) and surviving the zombie apocalypse. While some may perceive the film as a corruption of Austen’s literary work, the injection of zombies into the lives of England’s landed gentry is certainly intriguing yet comical.

(Source: Screen Gems)  “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” made over $5 million in its opening weekend.
(Source: Screen Gems)
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” made over $5 million in its opening weekend.

Having both become proficient zombie slayers, Mr. Darcy’s cold, judgmental and walled-up exterior immediately clashes with Bennet’s more lighthearted and hopeless romantic nature. Even in a universe where young women are trained to wield swords, guns and their bare fists to defend themselves, the light of feminism is not that bright yet as women are still expected to be married off to bachelors, something Bennet disagrees with. She would find herself in a kind of love rectangle as she rejects three men’s consecutive proposals, including Mr. Darcy, because she feels like she has not quite found the one yet.

While Bennet inadvertently falls for Mr. Darcy by the end, she and her sisters, Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber) and Mary (Millie Brady) mostly have no trouble fending off the undead. There is a brilliant scene near the film’s introduction where Bennet and her sisters are walking down an infested hallway, chopping off, slicing, stabbing and basically dismembering zombies around them, all in a Charlie’s Angels-esque slow-motion sequence.

The fight scenes throughout look almost nonsensical and erratic yet it proves how Steers’ direction helps the film skate just comfortably between carnage and comedy. With blood and brains often splattering while staining dresses and breeches, one can’t help but feel a sense of adrenaline. The film is not meant to be taken too seriously since its source material is a parody of Austen’s acclaimed book, but it is just strong enough to stand on its own. As someone who has never read either Austen’s or Grahame-Smith’s books, I was still able to understand what was going on, thanks to the characters’ sharp wit and exhilarating action sequences.

However, it felt a little rushed as all at once zombies flooded the big screen, Bennet and Mr. Darcy struggled to express themselves, and Bennet, a hardcore zombie repellent, simply settled down for marriage. Nevertheless, the film exceeded my low expectations as I had assumed that a movie that juggles romance, gore and the undead would just result in a mess. It may not be the most thought-provoking film of the year, but it certainly is entertaining.

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