Leave your brain at the door…for zombies
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a ‘comedy’ horror film adapted from Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel of the same name, which parodies Jane Austin’s 1813 classic Pride and Prejudice. It’s an unequivocal, ridiculous zombie romp which keeps in tone with Austin’s dialogue and the majority of the authentic text. This renders it rather tongue-in-cheek as it refers to dismemberment, martial arts and the undead in an ‘oh so British’ fashion.
Lily James (Cinderella, Wrath of the Titans)
Sam Riley (Control, On The Road, Maleficent)
Suki Waterhouse (Insurgent, Pusher, Love Rosie)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, Dredd)
Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, The Imitation Game)
Matt Smith (Doctor Who, Terminator Genisys)
Douglas Booth (Jupiter Ascending, Loving Vincent)
Sally Phillips (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason)
Jack Huston (Ben-Hur, American Hustle)
In 19th Century England, Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) and Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) have five daughters who are of an age to be married. The Bennet sisters—Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), and Mary (Millie Brady)—were sent to China by their father to learn in the art of martial arts and weaponry. Mrs. Bennet intends her daughters to be married into wealthy, well to-do families. The Bingley family move in nearby and host a ball, which the Bennets attend driven by the hopes of Mrs. Bennet that the young and handsome Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) will become smitten with one of her daughters. The second eldest daughter, Elizabeth, is headstrong and independent; refusing to bow to convention. However, over time Elizabeth develops feelings for a zombie-hunting Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley) and experiences a love-hate-love relationship with him whilst simultaneously battling an ever growing zombie horde in the city.
The film is shot competently by Writer and Director Burr Steers, whose past directing credits include episodes of The L Word, The New Normal and Big Love as well as family comedy/romantic films Charlie St. Cloud and 17 Again. The action sequences in particular are impressive in places; leaving you satisfied with the shaolin fighting abilities of the cast and their dismemberment of the zombie hordes. The fight between the sisters and zombies within the manor hall in particular is one of these stand out moments; leaving you with a moment of visual satisfaction at the very least.
Locations are chosen effectively in line with the period of the film and even share visual resemblance with Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow in places (however, Burton perhaps could have brought more to this film had he helmed the position of director).
James makes for a very effective and watchable lead. She is able to switch between kickass heroine and emotional vulnerability with ease, which makes her performance shine in places throughout. I imagine we will be seeing a lot more of James in forth-coming lead roles, which is a welcome sight. Riley, Booth and Huston make for capable leads, however their performances begin to feel very ‘by the number’ throughout, which is evident in the apparent ‘romance’ between them and their significant love interests. Smith gives us the truly standout performance of the film, providing the real comedy of a film which never fully decides if it is a tongue-in-cheek comedy or a gritty zombie action. As a side note, Headey and Dance are a joy to watch in their scenes throughout – almost reminding us of warmer, friendlier siblings to their Tywin and Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones.
However, the film loses its momentum during the more emotional scenes, which tend to fall flat. The film does not provide the viewer with the integral background and context of the characters necessary to make you feel anything for them. We understand that the Bennets are sisters, but are at a loss for any real chemistry between them and their romantic interests. This is especially evident towards the end of the film in which we see an emotional Elizabeth crying into the chest of the presumed-dead Darcy. All of the ingredients are there – the sweeping soundtrack, slow-moving camera shot and strong emotional performance from James – but the scene does not pull at your heartstrings the way the buildup of the scene suggests it should.
In the end, what you can come to understand is that it was never a film designed to make you grow (or want to grow) attached to the characters and really root for them. Your desire to finish the film rests upon a general curiosity as opposed to a burning desire to find out how it all ends. It can easily be placed into the category of ‘late-night channel surfing’ which you may stop on and watch briefly before heading to bed.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an easy watch with moments that entertain here and there. The action sequences are the most pleasing moments of the film, which manage to keep you sufficiently entertained throughout. The performances are generally adequate, however James in particular makes for a very capable lead and Smith gives us the very watchable comic relief. Unfortunately, none of these elements are enough to bring together the film as anything special. As a film that appears to try for a lot more, it only ever piques your interest briefly in places and falls flat as it fails to ever build to anything meaningful.
It is worth pointing out that there is a mid-credits scene which strongly suggests that a sequel will follow. However, it feels that only diehard fans of the book and film will have any interest in paying to go and see it – I of which am neither.