(On Cable TV, October 2016) I didn’t exactly approach Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with the most enthusiastic expectations. The zombie craze peaked a long time ago, I’ve never been able to fully embrace Jane Austin’s work (despite my best intentions) and the idea of mashing up the undead within the framework of an Austin novel never seemed like anything but a novelty. This lack of enthusiasm may end up explaining my modestly good reaction to the result. I’m perhaps most impressed at the breadth of the zombie story that original novel author Seth Grahame-Smith has managed to sneak in-between the Austen narrative framework, with an apocalyptic vision of a zombie-infested Great Britain split in zones, four horsemen of the Apocalypse and antagonists actively working for the other side. Portraying Mister Darcy and the Bennett sisters as effective action heroes is amusing (such as when a mild-mannered conversation is portrayed through a waiting room combat, or when blades are sheathed next to lingerie.), while the historical production values are just as credible as any BBC drama. The flip side of such a mash-up, though, are that the surprisingly short film barely has time to race through its twin strands of plotting. The elements kept intact from the Austen novel are covered as if viewers already knew about that (a good but imperfect assumption), while the horror sequences have to live in-between other mandatory elements. The result may be entertaining, but the better it gets the more frustrating it becomes: While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is good enough to avoid being a mere curio, it shows more than a glimmer of the much better film it could have been under other circumstances. Lily James and Sam Riley are fine in the two main roles, but read the list of actors and directors initially considered for the project and weep at the thought of the versions that alternate universes got to see. It’s probably best to keep expectations in check and wonder at the oddity that did make it on-screen: It’s remarkably easy to watch, amusing in its willingness to blend two different genres together and more ambitious than your run-of-the-mill zombie movie.
(On-demand Video, December 2012) I’m a forgiving fan of big dumb action movies, but there’s something just off in the way Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is handled. The one-joke premise (fully encapsulated in the title) is so outrageous that the only way to do it justice is to fully indulge in the madness: make it big, make it outrageous, make it as demented as possible. Indeed, the two best sequences of the film are those in which writer Seth Grahame-Smith (who adapted his own rather more serious eponymous novel) allows himself to go as over-the-top as possible: Flinging horses and jumping away from collapsing bridges are exactly what I expect of a film titled Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Unfortunately, the script calls for the rest of the film to be ponderous and reverential to the Lincoln mythos. This makes the end result feel far too heavy for its own sake and possibly insulting to the real-life history of slavery. Where is the fun? Where is the action? By trying to stand half-way between the historical record and the craziness of its ultra-contemporary premise, director Timur Bekmambetov (who’s capable of much better) ends up sabotaging the impact of his own project. At a time where campy irony is justifiably decried, I feel bad about calling for more of it… but the best moments of the film only highlight what it most missed. Fortunately, most of the actors do good work: Benjamin Walker is just fine as Lincoln (some camera angles late in the film make him look like Liam Neeson) and Rufus Sewell seems to have a lot of fun playing the antagonist. Aside from the stampede sequence and the train finale, through, there really isn’t much to Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter: the script is inconsistent, the dialogues are perfunctory and the pacing is slow enough to make anyone long for the next burst of madness. Unlike other reviewers, I had some hopes for the film. Alas, I can only register my disappointment.