Film review – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I have been excited for this movie to be released since I first heard about the project.

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Despite the sarcastic exterior, I have a real soft spot for Jane Austen’s society stories. And you all know how I feel about zombies. So when the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novel adaptation was published, my inner romantic and inner apocalypse enthusiast finally found some common ground.

Seth Grahame-Smith did an extraordinary job of taking the source text and reimagining it as taking place in the same period in time – except with zombies. The women still have to navigate the same social minefield, but they also have to navigate hordes of the undead as well. They have to figure out which type of weapon is both efficient at decapitating zombies and also ladylike enough to wear under a dress. They have to balance their training as warriors with the expectation that they will eventually be wives.

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It is an incredibly novel premise, and something I had yet to see done before he wrote it. We may not live under the same social constraints of Austen’s time, but there are still a lot of deeply ingrained expectations of women-of-a-certain-age. In my eyes, the addition of zombies to a marriage plot is the ultimate mic drop.

As a fan of the genre, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the portrayal of women in zombie movies is often as objects one step up the chain from the undead. So, the idea of seeing a squad of Regency era sisters smashing the skulls of “unmentionables” and blowing the minds of society snobs – on the big screen – was particularly tantalizing.

The Bennet sisters give off a no-nonsense vibe, sparring with each other at home and fighting alongside each other when the need arises. When their backs are up against a wall, they play it cool.

Though they perhaps play it a little too cool, a little too disaffected. Jane could have been sweeter; Elizabeth could have been more impertinent; Lydia could have been more flighty; Mary could have been more than a just a pair of glasses; Kitty could have been… more (I only knew her character was her because she was the fifth).

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All of that is neither here nor there, though. Far be it from me to give notes to an actress on her lady-warrior balance. The fight scenes were satisfying, but short. The romance scenes were charming enough, but lacked any fire. The standout cast member, without a doubt, was Matt Smith in the roll of simpering nitwit Mr. Collins.

The reason I enjoyed Smith’s performance above the others was the same reason, ultimately, I feel the movie didn’t fully reach its potential. He understood the wry humor of all of this – of the business of marriage, of Regency ladies fighting zombies, of zombies even as a general concept – and that understanding translated into the shallowest character of the book showing the most depth on screen.

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I could have done with about 400% more humor in this movie. It was there from time to time in a passing line or a little gesture, but it was nowhere near as sharp as either author’s text.

When I first walked out of the theater, I felt like they had made an admirable attempt at translating the adapted text to the screen. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like something wasn’t sitting right with me. Not having read it since it was first published, I went back and thumbed through the book and figured out what felt so… off.

They added an entirely new story to the movie. Not new like adding zombies to Austen, but new like adding an entire subplot that wasn’t originally added when he added zombies to Austen. Without getting into spoiler territory, I’ll just say that Wickham goes in a completely different direction from the book and the movie is poorer for it.

It boils down to not having a clear audience in mind. In the Venn diagram of rabid Austen fans and rabid zombie fans, there is a limited overlap (of which I happen to be a member). Yes, the book sold well when it was released. However, I think a lot of that was due to the novelty that has since worn off with subsequent adaptation projects.

It seems as though, in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, they amped up the action in all the wrong places. They added elements that were unnecessary. They flattened out a lot of character attributes.

Yet despite all that, I still believe if you enjoyed the book you’re going to enjoy the movie. It’s not as good as it could have been, but it’s something different and the fact that it was such a struggle to get it made is telling of why we need more movies like this:

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2.5/5

Book review – Horrorstör

There are few pastimes in this world that make me happier than reading scary books or watching scary movies. One of those few happens to be strolling through Ikea. I know it’s probably indicative of some sort of psychosis, but I find Ikea very soothing. The second time I moved to Beijing I lived pretty close to one of the 10 largest Ikea stores in the world and I went there often. Sometimes just for dinner.

So, when I heard about a horror novel that takes place inside an Ikea knockoff store I knew that I absolutely had to read it. Horrorstör, by Grady Hendrix, follows a group of employees who stay overnight at Orsk, “The Better Home For The Everyone”. They’re trying to figure out why the morning crews keep arriving to unwelcome surprises like broken Liripip closet solutions and a Brooka memory foam sofa covered with putrid goo.

Horrorstör novel by Grady Hendrix

Before I get into the finer points of the plot, I think it’s important to talk about the stunning design of this book. It’s larger format, the exact dimensions of an Ikea catalogue, and organized like one as well. The inside front cover has a map of the store, followed by a welcome page and how-to guide for shopping at Orsk. There’s a detailed home delivery order form that slyly and seamlessly integrates the copyright and publisher information.

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Take it from someone who derives great enjoyment from the Ikea design esthetic, this book fully embraces their iconic combination of form and function. All of the chapters are even named for imaginary Orsk products, and the products become more twisted as the paranormal plot progresses.

As for the plot, the best synopsis I can give without spoilers is that it builds in a very expected way until very suddenly it diverges into something wholly unexpected. The characters are your standard horror archetypes: A snarky skeptic who just wants the overtime pay; A ditzy babe with a ghost obsession; A suave hunk who feigns interest in spirits to get a date; A nervous older woman with a fear of “Creepy Crawlies”; A level-headed manager whose religion is the Orsk ethos.

The basic premise is that things are getting busted up overnight while the store is empty, and Basil (the manager) wants to get to the bottom of things before representatives show up from the Orsk corporate offices. He asks Amy (the skeptic) and Ruth Anne (the nervous older woman) to stay in the store with him overnight and catch the assumed vandals in the act. They both say yes, because Amy is perpetually short on cash and Ruth Anne is a dedicated lifelong Orsk employee. Matt (the hunk) and Trinity (the babe) sneak into the store the same night, convinced the vandals are actually angry spirits, armed with gear to film a concept episode of their ghost-hunting show.

The entire first half of the book, this is what was playing in my mind:

The second half of the book completely justified the feelings of “hell no”, with a darkness that is made perhaps even more dark by the flippant humor of the first half of the book. It’s not the most original plot, but it is the most original telling of a classic plot that I’ve read in a while. Overall it was an enjoyable book, written with a unique voice and an admirable attention to thematic details.

Horrorstör is available in print or as an ebook, but if I were you I would buy a print copy. You can find it at any major book retailer or get it directly from its publisher, Quirk Books.