Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Bloody lovely.

More of a playful mash-up than an actual story, Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 best-seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is essentially a parody that combines Jane Austen’s mannered 1831 romance, Pride and Prejudice — which has now become public domain — with elements of the modern zombie craze. Truth be told, I doubt anyone’s read the entire book cover to cover, considering it was probably intended as a joke to be shared amongst friends. While I understand that there might be an ounce fun in seeing Austen’s refined dialogue juxtaposed against some gory action, this watered-down film adaptation feels both idiotic and unnecessary.

Written and directed by Burr Steer, 17 Again (2009), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is set in a reimagined world where 19th century England has been infected by a mysterious plague, one that’s left the entire area swarming with the undead. But in this rendering of colonial Europe, where London has been separated from the rest of England by a giant moat and wall, bloodshed is nonchalant yet romance is war.

Corset: Check. Petticoat: Check. Daggers: Check.
Corset: Check. Petticoat: Check. Daggers: Check.

Enter the Bennet sisters — Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), and Mary (Millie Brady) — five young ladies who (instead of drinking tea) are sharpening blades and polishing riffles in their drawing room, discussing marriage options since their mother (Sally Phillips) intends to give them away to the most wealthy suitor available. As it turns out the Bingley family, who have just moved nearby, are throwing a ball, Mrs. Bennet counting on the young and handsome Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) to fall for one of her daughters. Trained in Eastern martial arts, the Bennet sisters attend the said event and fight off a horde of rotters who attack the party. It’s an engaging opening with viewers being reintroduced to these corseted damsels as newly imagined monster slayers, katana-wielding babes who have weapons tucked in their garters.

However, instead of focusing on the impending deadhead attack, the rest of the feature is more concerned with matters of the heart over matters of survival. It feels kinda daft how there’s an apocalypse looming but all these women care about is marriage. Therein lies the problem; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a silly combination that’s never spoofed properly. For starters, director Steer stays too faithful to Austen’s source material — which explores themes of wealth, class and matrimony — the filmmaker pushing all the campy brain-munching stuff to the side (there’s little arbitrary violence here at all). Although horror aficionados might venture out to catch a gore-fest with a sprinkling of passion and dab of panache, those who prefer more cultured entertainment will be far less inclined. And oh, with lines such as, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains,’ literature pursuits will no doubt find the whole darned thing sickening.

'I just want a man with a head on his shoulders.'
‘I just want a man with a head on his shoulders.’

In any case, Lily James, Cinderella (2015), gives a solid interpretation of Austin’s heroine Elizabeth Bennet, balancing the character’s feisty aversion towards traditional courtship — that is, courtship based on contract instead of love — with her intimidating warrior skills. Belching at the suggestion of laying down her sword in order to become someone’s wife, it’s clear that this polished gal would rather remain single than give up her training. Sam Riley, Control (2007), is solid as Mr. Darcy, a veteran hunter of the walking dead, introduced in the picture’s opening scene where he travels to the home of a wealthy family in order to investigate rumors of a newly infected walker. A sequence where Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet battle it out using hand-to-hand combat as opposed to sharp wit really showcases the comparative difference between Austen’s paperback and this updated satire — if only Steer had chosen to focus more on the latter. Jack Huston, The Longest Ride (2015), is also decent as George Wickham, a charming soldier whose negative story of Mr. Darcy attracts the sympathy of Elizabeth. Matt Smith of Doctor Who (2005) fame overplays his role of Mr. Collins, a finicky parson intent on marrying one of the sisters, while the Game of Thrones (2011) cameos are underwhelming at best — Charles Dance has very little to do as the compassionate Mr. Bennet whereas an eye-patch wearing Lena Headey delivers a combatant take on Lady Catherine de Bourgh, a notorious cannibal corpse killer with wealth and power.

On a technical level, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is rather dashing. The production design by David Warren, The Zero Theorem (2013), brings the Regency era back to life in authentic detail with its many fancy furnishings and glitzy ballrooms, while the creature make-up and prosthetic effects by Mark Coulier, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), are equally as admirable — deteriorating flesh never looked so good — the bite victims more aware of what’s happening to them throughout their transition, degrading further each and every time they taste brains. This is topped off by a wickedly ghoulish storybook opening sequence that explains the film’s rich back-story (a nifty set-up that’s mostly ignored). There’s another fresh idea about cultivating zombies by getting them to eat animal brains, but again, this concept goes nowhere, too.

'How'd the movie finish? I only saw half of it.'
‘How’d the movie finish? I only saw half of it.’

At the end of the day, the crafty gimmick of mixing Pride and Prejudice with elements of zombie and ninja fandom wears thin within the picture’s first few minutes. What we’re left with is a by-the-numbers remake that feels somewhat disconnected from the ‘cool’ ghastly premise that most ‘blood and guts’ enthusiasts would gladly pay to see. What’s next, a watered-down version of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (I kid you not, this is actually a real life lampoon) — gosh, how unladylike!

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia