As cynical as it seems to forcefully shove the undead into a classic work of fiction, especially considering how wildly over-saturated the zombie genre already is these days, there is a certain charm to this adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, even if, sadly, it’s ultimately a surprisingly tame, one-note joke.
Amid an alternate history version of 19th century England where a zombie plague pervades across the land, the five Bennett sisters – Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), and Mary (Millie Brady) – must navigate the discomforting social mores of the time (as in Jane Austen’s original novel), while also dealing with a zombie horde knocking on their door.
Marketed as 100 minutes of sexy ladies and dapper gents kicking zombie arse, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is sadly more of a vaguely satirical retelling of Austen’s source material with zombies serving as nothing more than window dressing. Considering that most people who watch the film are likely going with the hope of seeing a zombie flick with a period garnish, the end result feels massively counter-intuitive to what it should so clearly be, and contributes massively to the entire exercise feeling like a missed opportunity, albeit a tolerable one.
Lengthy portions of this film are just a fairly dispassionate regurgitation of Pride and Prejudice, which seems lazy and pointless, considering there are far better productions audiences can seek out should they please. Entire scenes are largely irony-free and simply repeat the original novel beat-for-beat, and then perhaps for 30 seconds or so, a zombie might show up before getting its head blown off, as if to remind us of the hilarious iconoclastic appeal.
Sadly, even the little action that appears is hampered massively by a ridiculous PG-13 rating; the likes of World War Z and Warm Bodies have proven in the past how the genre just doesn’t suit a rating below R, resulting in awkward editing choices to try and obscure the gory mayhem. Again, the target audience wants to see buckets of gore, so who, exactly, was this supposed to please?
Tonally the film also suffers, taking itself oddly seriously one moment and then lurching into full-on camp the next. Though the cast on the other hand do their best with the material, sadly a potential secret weapon in Lena Headey, who plays a legendary zombie killer incarnation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, spends almost the entire movie sat in a chair.
Instead it falls to a never-better Matt Smith to steal the show, apparently the only actor fully aware that he’s starring in silly garbage, and having plenty of fun with it. The lovely James, a winning combination of troublingly sexy and admirably fierce, also holds her own, and blatantly deserves better material.
It’s not a trainwreck, but at the same time, it’s full of dull patches for a movie that should deliver the basic goods with a fairly minimal degree of effort. The fact that it bombed rather catastrophically at the box office makes it clear that the toothless PG-13 approach clearly wasn’t worthwhile.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in cinemas now