Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) / Action-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Sally Phillips, Charles Dance, Jack Huston, Lena Headey, Matt Smith
Director: Burr Steers
Screenplay: Burr Steers (based on the book by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Review published February 7, 2016
Seth Grahame-Smith's tongue-in-cheek reimagining of Jane Austen's 19th Century classic romance novel finally hits theater screens, perhaps a bit too late to catch either the zombie craze or the fervor for Jane Austen adaptations that were quite hot at the time of the original novel's publication in 2009. Nearly seven years later, its only distinguishing characteristic for either genre is the mash-up of one with the other.
Cinderella's Lily James plays Elizabeth Bennet, the second-oldest of five sisters hoping to find a proper wealthy husband in an isolated version of London that is completely surrounded by zombie masses hoping to feast on the brains of the living within its walls. In order to combat the undead, many of the families have taken to sending their children to Asia to learn martial arts from the masters in either Japan or China. Even with extinction a very real possibility, the Bennets still hope their daughters marry well, and while the more fetching eldest sister Jane (Heathcote, Not Fade Away) is catching the eye of most potential suitors, a mixture of emotions begin to swell between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Riley, Maleficent), an emotionally aloof zombie hunter of good breeding. Despite Darcy's ill manners at times, the potential for more is still there between them, if they can survive long enough to make it all happen.
Directed and adapted by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), who hasn't written a produced screenplay since his credit for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies gives you most of its amusement just from the title, and whatever humor value is left is certainly used up just from seeing the trailer, i.e. the Bennet sisters armed and kicking butt against the zombie horde invading London. The main problem is that there's nearly 100 more minutes of repeating that same formula of trying to find ways to inject zombies within the construct of Austen's novel, and to have prolonged martial arts-tinged action sequences to try to make it seem gleefully exciting. That, and the two competing genres vying for attention in the film cancel each other out, as the film is too noisy and explosive to properly find a way to settle in to the romance, which, in turn, is still explored to retain the Austen plotline, even though niceties of polite society and examination of the expectations of class deflate the momentum of the over-the-top horror-action formula. And, perhaps its most defeating element, is that it doesn't find a way to adequately tie in the themes of a zombie outbreak with that of the Jane Austen story, which means that the metaphors and symbolism often implied in the use of zombies is not there. It's just "Pride and Prejudice" with occasional zombie-battle interludes.
If the film has decent moments at all, it comes through the vestiges of the original Jane Austen novel in its characterizations, as well as quality casting of its actors, most notably in Lily James as Elizabeth. She gives a performance here that has surprising range for such a farcical endeavor, and if she could have been paired with an actor that gives her more chemistry than Sam Riley seems to muster, we might have even felt something for the characters to care when their lives are in mortal danger. Alas, the Austen work, while mostly intact in the Grahame-Smith reimagining, enough for her to still get an author credit (thanks to its public domain status), is heavily abridged in the movie adaptation, which chops out most of the subtlety of the character development and the build-up of the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in order to make room for its zombie-fighting scenes, we're never invested in what's going to happen from scene to scene. Boredom will set in for pretty much anyone who isn't intimately familiar with "Pride and Prejudice" and just finds it funny to see the injection of horror elements and silly action sequences into delicate and sublime period piece.
Other than its impressive cast, the movie does sport some nice production values and relatively decent fight choreography for its type, such that it retains a modicum of watchability, even though we're never properly engaged by the storyline as we should. All of its pleasures are surface level, infusing civilized society with savage slaughter, which means that fans of PG-13 level horror-based action flicks will find more to digest than those who prefer period romances, despite the fact that, had this same cast filmed "Pride and Prejudice" sans zombies, a pretty good movie could have emerged. But that's not the property we're given, so the film is only really recommended for genre nuts that know the source work well enough to find it all a mildly amusing absurdist diversion from the rest of the too-crowded field of zombie-based properties.
-- There is an extra scene during the end credits.
©2016 Vince Leo