It’s raining zombies, oh lord!
After over-saturating the big screen they invaded our TVs, infiltrated our comic books, and and eventually even got their own plush toys. The phenomena that twenty years ago was reserved for horror fans and D&D players has become one of the definitive pieces of house hold pop culture. With no media left to haunt, the only place for them to run to was the pages of English literature.
Pride, and Prejudice, and Zombies lives or dies on the gimmick of incorporating the hugely popular living dead into Jane Austen’s classic. Sure, it sounds like the perfect way to marry horror fanboys to a classier bit of storytelling, but the question must be asked. What can the horror icon contribute to what is arguably already a masterpiece other than higher book and movie ticket sales?
Pride and Prejudice is a story that’s been in nearly every sophomore high school English class and needs no introduction. Lily James fills the shoes of as a surprisingly forgettable Elizabeth Bennet, Sam Riley takes on the role of doubly detestable Darcey, and Jack Huston plays a stone faced and somewhat morally relatable Wickham. The rest of the cast includes a slew of well known and well wasted TV superstars including Lena Headey, Matt Smith, and Charles Dance. The story plays out exactly as you’d expect it to with every beat staying true to the original source material with zombies being shoehorned in at every corner.
The film wastes no time before diving head first into the pseudo-Victorian setting thanks to a few zombie kills and casual monologues about the war against the undead rounding out the first few minutes. It’s an intriguing proposition that quickly wears thin after the first three or so brainless beheadings. Instead of finding creative ways to use creatures to further the ideas of the original story or as a clever metaphor to add another layer of self reverent commentary, the film simply inserts the magic wherever the writers decided it would be fun to indulge.
The method makes for a complete bore that wrecks the pacing and insults its source material. It’s clear that writer/director Burr Steers sought to incorporate the cadence to the dialog, but what he and the author Seth Grahame-Smith fail to understand is the natural flow of basic storytelling. There’s not a single time in this film when a supernatural element is used that doesn’t feel more contrived than the laborious early seasons of The Walking Dead. Zombies are popular, but that doesn’t mean they’re a magical plot device that can wow a broken script out of existence. The added material makes for a loud boring drag for the entire 108 minute runtime. Worst of all, the new angle actually betrays the very heart of the original novel.
This film isn’t just bad, but is a cluelessly unintentional insult to Jane Austin’s original work. It wants to lead to you to believe Elizabeth Bennet is an empowered undead slaying badass of destiny, but ironically the film pigeon holes her into a questionably misogynistic and submissive role. Like most tweeny films, she’s played up as a strong if over-sexualized women wielding a sharpened blade and low cut dress. Anything and everything you’ve ever loved about Bennet is sadly left off of the table in favor of style. What we’re left with is the most forgettable interpretation of the heroine this side of Bella Swan. It wouldn’t be bad if she was just a snooze, but’s what most upsetting is in her most pivotal moments she is ultimately subjugated by Darcy. This is turns out to be a total character assassination that undermines the most important themes in Jane Austin’s story.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies doesn’t understand the very fundamentals that made the source material an iconic piece of the canon. Instead it takes the notion of zombies and pastes them all over the pages of what was already a lackluster adaptation. Even stripping away the gimmick, you’re left with a piss-poor made for TV movie.
It’s clear this film is a confused and garbled mess, but you’d still think it would have a handful of cool effects driven set pieces to bring a fun popcorn experience. Incorrect. The spectacle of this film is just as obnoxious and arbitrary as the hordes of zombies burning down England. Classic scenes are interrupted by poorly shot sword and gun fights. Monologues are spoiled by zombified exposition covered in head shots. These bits have no real business being included for any reason other than to distract you from the nonsense of the film’s onslaught of gaping plot holes.
If there’s anything nice to be said about the film, it’s in its casting of supporting players. Matt Smith seems to be the only guy who relishes in the absurdity of the premise while Charles Dance teases at what could have been a stellar performance had he been given more to do. Lena Heady’s presence starts a a gleeful tease that ultimately amounts to nothing more than a kinda-sorta cool eye patch. These glimmers of quality are few and far between which makes them all the more necessary to recognize.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has had a troubled production history ever since its announcement in 2009. Perhaps it’s passed through so many hands that the original flare of the story was lost. Maybe Seth Grahame-Smith’s original book was already a total mishandling of the source. We may never quite know exactly where this film went wrong in its development, but what we do understand is that this version is not good and it does not bring anything remotely new or interesting to the classic that is Pride and Prejudice. It’s a wasted opportunity and a tragedy I can’t recommend anyone waste their time or money to see. You’re better off running Dawn of the Dead and the 2005 rendition side by side on two different TVs.