Film Review | Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Perhaps it was inevitable that the cynical literary 'mashup' between the Jane Austen classic and zombie lore would get a cinematic adaptation. But guest reviewer MARCO ATTARD asks: does the film justify the leap?

21 March 2016, 8:33am
Hack and Slash: Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) sets to make some zombies even deader in the likewise undead Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Hack and Slash: Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) sets to make some zombies even deader in the likewise undead Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
By Marco Attard

Is there anything as tiresome as the pop culture mashup? If you don't know what such a thing might involve, here's the general idea - you take a popular thing of any kind, be it a movie or a cartoon character or a TV show and you "mash" it with another popular thing, all in the name of creating something that, depending on one's opinions on these matters, is only sort of original at best.

Seth Grahame-Smith is a man who an entire career out of such mash ups, having written novels such as the self-explanatory Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Unholy Night (a retelling of nativity story where the Magi are also criminals) and the subject of this review, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was adapted into cinema by director Burr Steers. But is it one worth bothering with?

If you've seen the 2012 cinematic take on the aforementioned Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter you might the answer to that question, but if you didn't do read on, if you feel like it (spoiler warning: neither film can be described as very good, alas).

As you should have gathered from the above preamble, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is as self-explanatory as its author's preceding work. It's the Jane Austen novel, only with additional... zombies! As such, it retains the same premise as that classic tale of social mores and machinations, but set in an alternate version of 19th century Britain suffering from a bad case of zombie apocalypse apparently brought about by the Empire's incessant mercantile operations.

As a genuinely amusing pop-up book-style opening sequence tells us, the British population appears to have somewhat adapted to the undead scourge, most of the population huddling within a walled London while the moneyed classes turn their mansions into veritable fortresses. In a country estate within this world live the Bennet sisters, four young ladies whose lives are nicely divided between training in the martial arts (because, of course, such a mashup stew requires at least a soupçon of kung fu) and being readied for a suitably wealthy husband. The ensuing drama, as those familiar with the original novel would know, focuses around the eldest of the two sisters - the fair Jane (Bella Heathcote) and the stubborn Elizabeth (Lily James).

Jane fancies the fabulously rich Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) while Elizabeth has love-hate relationship with his best friend Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) who in this version is less a foppish dandy and more monster-wielding zombie slayer.

Balls and sharply worded societal niceties take place, especially as Elizabeth gets to know George Wickham, a soldier-slash-Darcy's estranged step-brother who claims to have a solution for the zombie plague. But are Wickham's intentions – both those involving Elizabeth and the zombie solution – true? And will the Bennet sisters get married off before England meets the end of days?

It's one hell of a mix, and one that, frankly, rarely ever works. In fact, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' best moments involve quiet, slightly absurdist images, such scenes set in drawing rooms where the girls chatter about husbands while cleaning oversized weaponry, or the way they slide a variety of blades and guns within petticoats and garters as they dress up in their finest gowns and style their hair for the ball.

The girls do get involved in the good fight against the undead, but the action sequences suffer from shockingly poor choreography and even worse lighting, leading to muddled, nearly unwatchable results. The film was made on the cheap, and it shows - when it comes to zombie action, one can seriously find better in any random episode of The Walking Dead.

Also varying in quality are the performances. Lily James is the star here, even if her charming performance is frankly wasted when put against Sam Riley’s dour, gravelly-voiced. Seriously, the two show so little of chemistry one requires sophisticated laboratory equipment to detect it.

Most of the other performances on show are also forgettable, apart from former Doctor Who Matt Smith's bumbling turn as Parson Collins and the appearance of not one but two Game of Thrones alumni, Charles Dance (seen as a Bennet patriarch with a penchant for ranting on the superiority of Chinese fighting styles over their Japanese counterpart) and Lena Headey, who stars as an eccentric, eye patch-clad zombie slayer. Or that's what we're told she is, since we never see her in action, which you'll agree is something of a shame.

Ultimately there isn’t' much one can say about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - it's perhaps not entirely dreadful, but as far as mashups are concerned it's as weak as it gets, with the unremarkable (if at times unwatchable) girls-on-undead detracting, not adding, to the spikey wit of the original Austen manuscript.

As such, take this review as a warning against the mashup genre… and keep it in mind once Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (which, yes, is a thing that exists) gets an inevitable cinematic adaptation.