Tag Archives: Bella Heathcote

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

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I rolled my eyes when I first heard years ago that Hollywood was adapting Seth Grahame-Smith’s zombie mash-up of Jane Austen’s classic novel. I rolled my eyes back to centre when I found out Natalie Portman was going to play the lead role, and then I completely forgot about it as the film steered off into production hell.

Then out of nowhere, the film was done. Portman is now an Oscar winner (Black Swan, 2011) and only a producer on the film, with rising star Lily James replacing her as heroine Elizabeth Bennet. I still wasn’t too interested in the film, though I was willing to give it more of a chance because I was one of the six people in the world who actually liked a similar film — at least conceptually — Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which came out in 2012). Still, I thought the book was a gimmicky idea and the film was going to be the same.

Now that I’ve watched it, I can say that my reservations about it being gimmicky were largely misplaced. Grahame-Smith’s book basically took the original Pride and Prejudice (which is no longer protected by copyright) and added his own bits and pieces (pun intended) about zombies, so the basic structure of Austen’s novel is still there. The film version, accordingly, is the same. You still have the core plot and the same characters. The main difference is that they now live in a world of zombies and the Bennet family and the lovely Mr Darcy are all kick-ass zombie killers.

It sounds stupid and it is, though credit to director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) for finding the right tone — one that doesn’t take itself very seriously but also controlled enough so that it doesn’t spiral into a complete farce. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is more or less what you’d expect — lots of crazy zombie killing action and some light horror-comedy — except it’s surprisingly well-executed enough to not overdo it, so you don’t get tired of the zombie angle quickly or get bored by the period drama romance at the heart of the story.

The film survives from a disastrous collapse because they actually cast solid dramatic actors across the board. Lily James is excellent as Elizabeth Bennet, while Sam Riley (On the Road) makes a decent Mr Darcy. Throw in the likes of Jack Huston and Lena Headey, as well as young up-and-comers like Aussie Bella Heathcote and Douglas Booth (Noah), and you have yourself a nice ensemble cast who can carry their dramatic scenes well enough when there is no carnage on screen. The standout, however, has to be Dr Who himself, Matt Smith, who plays a hilarious version of Mr Collins.

The problem with P&P&Z is that it doesn’t do any particular thing well. It’s got comedy, but it’s more likely to put a brief smile on your face than elicit genuine laughs. It’s got horror, but there’s nothing that will make your hairs stand, give you the chills or make you jump in your seat. It’s got drama and romance, but if you wanted to watch that you’d just watch any of the many other P&P adaptations out there. And it’s got action, but it’s neither very stylish and exciting  (like say Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), nor is it very witty and creative (like say Shaun of the Dead).

So what we end up with is a surprisingly acceptable movie that’s enjoyable enough for killing 108 minutes of your spare time, but with no elements you haven’t already seen — and done better — in other genre films. It’s neither the total disaster I thought it might be nor the kind of genre-bending fun thrill ride it could have been.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Curse of Downers Grove (2015)

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I was quite shocked to discover that The Curse of Downers Grove is written by Bret Easton Ellis, author of one of my favourite books of all-time, American Psycho. Yes, it has that brutal violence Ellis is known for, but in terms of logic and common sense, it’s as though the script was written by Patrick Bateman.

Starring not one but two Aussie starlets, the film is marketed as a supernatural horror about a curse that kills one senior student at Downers Grove High School every year. In reality, the curse is nothing but a red herring, as the bulk of the 90-minute film is a violent teen psychological thriller in the vein of something closer to Cape Fear — where the protagonist is forced to defend herself against an insidious miniacal threat.

The protagonist in this case is Chrissie (played by Neighbours alum Bella Heathcote), who against her better judgment ends up going to a party with her skanky best friend (played by fellow Aussie Penelope Mitchell), where she fights off the sexual advances of a local football star Chuck (played by Kevin Zegers). This sets off a chain reaction in which Chrissie, her brother and her friends become the victims of stalking, threats and abuse at the hands of Chuck and his drugged-up goons, while his typical sports dad (Tom Arnold) keeps his cop buddies at bay.

So The Curse of Downers Grove is a completely different film to what it is being promoted as, which I find strange because teen supernatural horrors are a dime a dozen these days while teen psychological thrillers are rarer and arguably more intriguing.

In any case, the film just doesn’t work. While there are moments of tension, the narrative is all over the place. None of the things any of the characters do in the film make any sense whatsoever, and the two worst culprits are the most important characters to the story, Chrissie and Chuck. It’s hard to list example without giving away plot spoilers, but let me just say that it’s easier to count the instances where their actions and decisions make sense than those that don’t. Normal human beings don’t act in this way, even extremely stupid and naive ones. And yet the film had me wondering whether there was some kind of psychotic fantasy thing going on because no characters were behaving rationally. It didn’t help that there were occasional flashes of what appear to be random visions that had no reason to be in the film at all.

This weird, jarring experience is capped off by a grotesquely violent third act that’s also full of logic gaps before a pretty obvious “twist” ending brings the whole mess to a merciful end. I don’t know what Ellis and director Derick Martini were aiming for here, though it feels like a waste of a talented cast. I think Bella Heathcote has real star potential. She was a standout in the 2012 big screen adaptation of Dark Shadows and has the unique look and acting abilities to take her fame to the next level, which is bound to happen after she stars as Jane Bennett in the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I also quite like Kevin Zegers, who always plays fantastic bad-boy types and will always be remembered by me for snapping his legs sideways and then getting devoured by wolves in the underrated 2010 horror Frozen, not to be confused with the highest-grossing animated film of all time.

Alas, The Curse of Downers Grove turned out to be a frustratingly crap film. There are elements that appear promising, but Ellis’s lunacy and Martini’s ability to shape it into a logical coherent experience killed whatever chance it might have had.

1.75 stars out of 5