Starring Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Lena Headey, Matt Smith, Bella Heathcote, Sally Phillips
1 STAR (out of 5)
With a title like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it’s actually rather easy to conjure up an image of what to expect. Back in 2009, author Seth Grahame-Smith successfully pitched a novel of that very name on title alone to a world of Jane Austen lovers that felt let down by the lack of ninjas and brain-eating in the original tale of Bennetts and Darcys. And why not? As a premise, it’s an extremely fun one – take a popular tale set centuries ago in polite middle-class England, and throw in a zombie apocalypse. It’s a recipe for a hit, and the book certainly was one. As a movie, however, getting the balance just right – as well as the tone, it would appear – seems to have been extraordinarily difficult.
The movie lets us into a fictional Hertfordshire, where a Mr and Mrs Bennett are keen for their five daughters to marry off as soon as possible for fear that they might be left penniless after their father passes on. Two Bennetts catch the eyes of a Mr Bingley and a Mr Darcy, and from here, a tale of tangled passions and hearsay plays out, with the erstwhile Mr Wickham pulling into a love triangle midway into the plot. Oh, and there just so happens to be a zombie war going on, which is why all the girls have knives sheathed into their tights, and why they’re all so nonchalant when wielding shotguns.
You might have found my introduction of the zombie tangent there rather flippant – this, however, is pretty much how the ‘And Zombies’ aspect of the movie plays out, almost as if it is a minor footnote in the lore (despite lengthy exposition in the opening titles). This is clear, as one of the film’s biggest flaws is that it plays everything far too straight. The zombie apocalypse isn’t presented as being amusing, or as hilariously diverting as the title might suggest – it’s presented as acceptable fact in the Bennetts’ Hertfordshire, and as a result, the characters seem dismissively used to knifing the odd zombie here and there before carrying on as normal. It’s mildly infuriating, and this strange balance prevents the movie from ever reaching the tongue-in-cheek story the title suggests you’re going to receive.
With this, the balance tips far too heavily on the drama side of matters, with zombie appearances and fight scenes taking up what seem to be around five to ten minutes of screen time at most. This, supposedly, allows the movie to progress with its focus on the characters and story – and it does so in such a way that the zombie element of the movie feels starved. At the same time, the costume drama element feels hurriedly paced, almost as if it is attempting to keep up to a torrent of violent madness that isn’t actually there. This is a movie that is desperately unsure of itself.
Credit where it’s due – Grahame-Smith and the script editors have cleverly retold Pride and Prejudice during the time of a zombie war, but as an audience member, I was genuinely left wondering why I should actually care – particularly as the zombie epidemic is treated so nonchalantly by the cast that I wondered if I was the one with a problem! The characters are understandably undeveloped as it’s assumed many people watching will be aware of the cast from the original Pride and Prejudice – but it’s this assumption, and such a lack of depth, that makes for an even flatter experience. It just doesn’t sit right.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is not just flawed for its bizarre pace and unbalanced focus, however – as moments of cinematography here and there are absolutely incomprehensible. In sad news for zombie fans, we are actually shown very little in the way of violence, with cutaways and hurried fight sequences showing us lots of swords moving about and guns being fired – but actually very little in the way of impact. I myself am no connoisseur of gore – far from it – but anyone willing to pay money to see this film will likely be keen to see a few zombies being slaughtered, as opposed to being biffed around a little bit with the damage being left to audience interpretation - it smacks of a low-budget approach. The rating of ‘15’ in the UK, as it was given on my shores, allows for a lot more leeway than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies made of it – which begs the question, was the rating wasted?
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies - Official Trailer (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Again, I ask you to consider the title. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It suggests a wry and intentionally goofy look at what would happen if we threw a ton of gore and brain munching into a quaint, delicate universe – but instead, we receive a movie that is so indomitably aware of itself that it doesn’t make fun of this ridiculous aspect – it welcomes it in and allows it to become part of a very tiresome set of furniture. As a result, there’s next to no threat, and the only source of genuine suspense comes in the final 30 minutes, all the while preparing for an ending that even those who haven’t read the original book will have seen coming in the first couple of acts.
Comic relief does thankfully come occasionally in the form of Sally Phillips – who plays Mrs Bennett as if she were born for the role – and Matt Smith as the wet and nebbish Mr Collins, who awkwardly mops up each scene he’s in with a timid pleasantry or affectation. The cast, on the whole, do well with what they are provided – sadly, this appears to be a confused script and poor direction.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is nothing short of uninspiring; a movie that delivers on neither the weight of its title nor the book that preceded it. As a result, we’re left with an astonishingly lackluster attempt at adapting a bestselling novel that was already a parody – and we are therefore left wondering just who the movie is actually aimed at, and why it was made. It never achieves the level of absurdity or humor it intends to, instead falling back on a weirdly smug and nonchalant stomp through the world of regency folk giving zombies an occasional prod.
With Pride and Prejudice and Zombies having debuted earlier this month and with it yet to pull back its budget of $28 million at the time of writing, I would strongly advise directing your gaze at Deadpool for a fix of violence and absurdity this February; and to fall back on watching Colin Firth’s take on Mr Darcy if you are so inclined. Otherwise, this movie will make for a thoroughly numb and unmemorable evening out.