Monday 15 February 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Gored On Bennet

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
2015 USA
Directed by Burr Steers
UK cinema release print.

It is a truth perhaps less than universally acknowledged, that a Hollywood made horror parody in possession of a good budget must be in want of a good review. You will, of course, have to read on to find if a review of that passion and temperature is to be found in this humble blog.

Alas, by way of apology, in terms of my qualification to deliver a fair and less 'prejudiced' review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I must hasten to add that, having read neither Jane Austen’s original tome, Pride and Prejudice, nor the Quirk books bestseller of less than a decade ago - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith - I am in no way in a position to point out the merits, either good or bad, of the movie in question in terms of its adaptive qualities. The transformation of a work of written literature into a celluloid or, alas, digital medium can, at times, be a transformative process where either the baby or the bathwater can be found to be cast out and not survive the process which brings forth such hybrid creations, Frankenstein-like into this world.

However, in my defence, I will say that this also gives me a stronger viewpoint to judge the creation of the writers, directors and actors who have blessed us with their talents here on the strength of the primary intent of the final result that such a pot pourri of ingredients may bring to light in full view of the public. That is to say, my judgement is unclouded by the long road and legacy of the creation of the final product and, though this may mean I may not pick up on all the subtleties inherent in the narrative by the writers, I can in fact ensure that I am reviewing the film unhindered by the troublesome baggage that comes with a relationship to past variations of the theme, now made flesh on the cinematograph screens of the world.

It is pleasing for me to therefore report that, contrary to my expectations that such a woven concoction could not necessarily provide sufficient entertainment for the current generation of artistically impoverished souls who queue outside the picture houses up and down the country, myself included in this sometimes less than noble group, the artistic creation in question... that being the motion picture called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies... is indeed a thrilling and most entertaining yarn including extremely exciting scenes and visual depictions of romance and action. Both qualities rendered in equal measure upon a backdrop of atrocities of reanimated zombie horror that, despite being the sum of scenes which, essentially, all hang on the status bestowed upon it of being a ‘one-joke-wonder’ or ‘one-trick-pony’, so to speak, is both a cracking good piece of storytelling and also quite creative, at the very least, in the many ways in which the rendition of said, single, jape can be supported in terms of the comically inventive sequences. For example, the prejudice shown between the origins of a young lady’s skill at martial arts training, hinging upon whether one was trained in the Japanese or Chinese fighting styles, provoked smiles and noises of approval from this jaded cinema goer.

The actors in the movie are all very strong and bold and positively sterling in their upright depictions of the characters ‘borrowed’, or should I say ‘plundered’ from Miss. Austen’s original source novel. Lily James, so magnificent in both her beauty and her poise, soulfully renders the character of Miss Elizabeth Bennet animate with a grace and skill which positively brings one up into the narrative along with her. Sam Riley’s Mr. Darcy is as subtle in expression and deed as Ms James and his face is perfectly suited to that darkness and sense of haunted unease which plagues the character and paints him an ogre to the uninformed outsider. Former Doctor Who actor Matt Smith is also astonishing, playing a truly annoying and unsympathetic character, so much so that I was finding it hard to watch him to the point where his consummate skills as a thespian were painfully obvious in my inability to find anything likable about this charmless bore... I’ve always said Mr. Smith is a great actor and I think this film may not do him any favours in some ways because he is just so good and enthusiastic at his flawless portrayal.

All the performers in this are good and the cinematography more than adequate... incorporating long flowing shots and static tableaux which are a constant pleasure to behold and which lead the eye in to the plot with the other senses following obediently and without regret in their wake. I especially enjoyed the director's power to surprise the audience with the sudden bursting apart of a zombie’s head from a musket shell in mid conversation and also his audacity to then repeat this particular surprise joke again at a slightly later stage of the film while still managing to retain the veracity of its grizzly punchline without recourse to boring the audience or, indeed, popping them out of the narrative structure for any great length of time.

Similarly, the spectacle of the film, where the counties of London and Hertfordshire are rendered in their sheer and filthy zombie ridden beauty, is utterly that to which one must withstand a good and abundant smacking to one’s gob in reaction to the charming aesthetic which is followed through, from scene to scene, with a visual fervor which doesn’t stray from the continuity of the style of the opening sequences of the movie. Some directors can sometimes lose themselves with their incapacity to maintain a sense of kindred spirit between scenes as they flit around different ideas which sometimes burst apart the visual paste designed to cement them together into a single whole but Burr Steers shows not one jot of endangering his finely crafted entertainment with distractions to which an audience may find themselves suddenly left to their own devices.

Even the opening credits, with the back story of this twisted alternate history of the realm, is quite clever, employing a Pollock’s toy theatre illustrative style of the period to quickly keep the audience up to the fast pace of a stirring and noble steed in its expedient and entertaining delivery of the information required to maintain the steady course promised by the thoroughly thrilling pre-credits section. And, of course, the whole of the cinematograph sensation is also much sturdily bound with a score composed by the increasingly potent Fernando Velázquez which is pleasing to the ear, heightening the tenacity of the drama on screen without being untruthful or placing one outside of one’s attentions with any inappropriate or redundant musical atrocities. I have sent off to the Amazonians for a cylinder recording of said musical refinement to assail my ears with its lyrical charm and heart poundingly atonal, horrifying effects at the first opportunity.

And that, dear readers, is my summation of the newest entertainment of the screen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is showing in limited engagements around the country’s capital and many of the provinces local to yourselves. My best advice would be to take the opportunity to see such a merriment of mesmerising and humourous yet bloodthirsty shenanigans when the occasion first arises as it would be a shame for you to miss it at the cinema, although I understand some kind of home viewing apparatus may mean that many of you can enjoy the subtleties and juicy delicacies the film has on offer in another environment in a few months time. I would certainly urge you to do one or the other, or perhaps like myself, both, since this is truly a much better viewing experience than I had expected from the material and should be seen by many people to ensure it reaps the financial reward and encouragement for the producers that it does, in fact, deserve.  

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