Pride and Prejudice and Zombies attempts to reanimate the monster movie genre, but it buckles under too much Pride and Prejudice and nowhere near enough zombies.
Adapted from Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies combines Jane Austen’s classic tale with a zombified twist. Preceded by and often compared to the love-it-or-hate-it monster mashup Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (also based on a Grahame-Smith novel), fans had high hopes for this latest zombie flick.
But while Lincoln’s vampire hunting was able to satisfy action buffs with fast-paced, intense fight scenes, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies disappoints viewers, no matter what experience they wanted out of it.
Adapting a book to the big screen is difficult enough without having to throw a supernatural element into a classic piece of literature. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies attempts to do so, but the “and zombies” part really seems like an afterthought.
The movie opens at a refreshingly quick pace with a narration that brings the audience up to speed: An undead plague has contaminated England, and the European inhabitants have responded by building walls, digging moats and training in both Japanese and Chinese martial arts. Once bitten, the victim becomes infected, but the zombie transformation isn’t complete until the afflicted consumes its first human brain — let’s not even touch on how clichéd this process is. The zombie-slaying Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) kicks off the action by crashing a socialite party to prevent a would-be transformation, and viewers are given the unique perspective of watching the brief fight unfold from the zombie’s perspective as he is decapitated.
Despite its strong start, the movie soon finds itself moving at a truly ghoulish pace. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), the eldest of five Bennet girls, attends a party that is predictably overrun with zombies, and the five show off their foreign training as they combat waves of the undead — this being the only decent full-blown zombie fight until the movie’s ending. After this lackluster skirmish, the film quickly descends into an awkward conglomerate of comedy, action and romance that looks very much like a piecemeal and stumbling monster itself.
The biggest and most frustrating pitfall Pride and Prejudice and Zombies fails to overcome is its casting. James’ and Riley’s characters are supposed to be stoic and fierce, but they come off as boring and unfeeling. The two have such striking similarities that it’s obvious they’ll develop a relationship, and not even the film’s overused love triangle diversion can convince us otherwise.
Other actors’ talents are wasted with small roles and far-too-seldom appearances. Charles Dance and Lena Headey (Tywin and Cersie Lannister respectively from Game of Thrones) revisit familiar roles as family leaders, but they don’t get nearly the amount of screen time they deserve, especially Headey. Her character, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is made out to be a renowned zombie slayer extraordinaire, but we never see her fight. Not even once.
Only one character portrayed the perfect blend of performance and screen time: Parson Collins (Matt Smith, Doctor Who). Smith plays the Bennets’ clueless cousin who refrains from violence and seeks to marry whichever Bennet girl will have him. His comic relief keeps the film from fully transforming into a grotesque monster, but he can’t carry the movie by himself.
After lurching toward an anticlimactic finish, we’re left with the coming together of families and loved ones in a predictable, twist-free ending. After the credits roll, an additional scene alludes to a sequel. That brief scene even finds a way to make itself unappealing with a green screen and an “oh, it’s him again” moment. Most viewers probably won’t make it to that scene – and they probably won’t make it to the sequel, either.
These shortcomings make it difficult to pinpoint exactly what demographic this movie is supposed to target. Fans of Pride and Prejudice will be undoubtedly be disappointed with the tampering of a classic, and zombie fans will surely be disappointed with the lack of gore and terror the genre is known for.