It is a truth universally acknowledged that when Hollywood is on to a good thing, they will milk the shit out of it and exploit it until audiences are sick of it and then move on to the next “cool” thing. Right now that thing is very much zombies, so don’t be surprised to see if this trend potentially starts to grow with more adaptations that could soon follow featuring the undead. You would be safe to assume that Pride And Prejudice And Zombies has every potential for being a train wreck movie, or one of those so bad it’s bad films but in actual fact it’s neither and is surprisingly enjoyable as a fun rollick through an alternate universe.
In an 18th Century London that is now becoming overrun by a contagion turning people into zombies, men and women, young and old are having to take up arms to fight the hordes. But there is still time for proprietary and decency and the usual necessity of young women finding husbands. The Bennet sisters Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), Mary (Millie Brady), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse) are trying to be farmed out by their mother Mrs Bennet (Sally Phillips) to find husbands. Whilst attending a local ball the most eligible bachelor in the region Mr Bingley (Douglas Booth) is immediately taken with Jane, and even though Elizabeth catches the eye of Bingley’s friend Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) she is immediately put off by his rather aloof demeanour.
But as a contagion that turns people into zombies starts to spiral out of control, Elizabeth and her sisters must take up arms to defend their home. Will the dashing Captain Wickham (Jeff Huston) be able to assist the Bennet sisters? Will Mr Darcy finally get over his pride? Will Elizabeth let go of her prejudice? Will the zombies ever be stopped?
Surprisingly the screenplay of the film by director/writer Burr Steers (17 Again, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days) is actually an adaptation again of the original source material from Seth Grahame-Smith’s mashup novel ‘Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’ which is itself also an adaptation of the original material ‘Pride And Prejudice’ by Jane Austen. Think of it as Austen as the starting point, with Grahame-Smith altering the universe to include zombies but then Steers tweaking Grahame-Smith’s material and making adjustments to the plot for a film scenario. So taking that into consideration it’s not entirely necessary to be familiar with any of the book versions to enjoy this film. Steers injects this film with measures of both subtle and overt comedy, but a lot of this mainly stems from the ridiculousness of the premise to begin with. For those who are familiar with the original ‘Pride And Prejudice’ (be it written or film or mini series) there’s probably more to enjoy as you see the re-interpretation of these characters in a new light.
This is most evident amongst the Bennet girls, all of whom are still just as proper as their Austen counterparts but now with added warrior skills after having been sent to China to train in martial arts and fighting so as to defend their estate from any undead who trespass. Elizabeth, who was already fiery, fierce and fiesty in Austen’s version takes on a whole new badass persona. Whilst Darcy is equally aloof, aggressive and anguished as he hews down zombies with his samurai sword but in the middle of a restless night slices up some bushes whilst suffering angst over Elizabeth and his feelings for her. So when our warrior warring duo finally do accept how they feel for each other, it’s a case of the couple that slays together, stays together. The other noticeable change with the character portrayals is that of Parson Collins (ex Doctor Who alumni Matt Smith) who in this is far less foppish and just comically awkward and silly. And unlike Austen’s original Pride And Prejudice where the women felt more oppressed, these women are anything but that. They are expected to fight and be strong and still be as accomplished as any woman of the Victorian era.
Our stars are all wonderfully cast, particularly our two leads in Lily James and Sam Riley. James channels both the feminine and heroine and never lets either component outshine. Riley is not your typical Victorian gentleman, sporting his long leather trench-coat, messy hair and gravelly voice. Douglas Booth is the doe-eyed and more lover-not-a-fighter who matches the just as pretty Bella Heathcote. The film also has two Game of Thrones stars in Charles Dance (Mr Bennet) and Lena Headey (a fierce eye-patch sporting Lady Catherine de Bourgh) and even though their onscreen time is limited they are a fun addition to the cast. Matt Smith is also wonderfully silly as Parson Collins, who is far more interested in impressing everyone around him with stories of how wonderful Lady Catherine is than he is of the zombie apocalypse set to wipe everyone out.
Steers and his cinematographer Remi Adefarasin (Match Point, Elizabeth) have also done an exceptional job in capturing 19th century England ravaged by the zombie plague. Then of course there’s the costume design by Julian Day, that incorporates not only lavish dresses but garters hiding knife holsters. There are a couple of wonderfully iconic scenes like when the girls come striding into the ball with their knives and swords at the ready to take down the zombies who have all managed to sneak inside. Or when the Bennet sisters are having a lengthy discussion regarding suitors and men and practicing their fighting techniques against each other in their basement. Or there’s the brilliant reworking of the argument between Elizabeth and Darcy that basically has the pair of them beating each other up until Darcy storms out. And last but not least we can’t forget our zombies and both the physical makeup and CGI looks pretty amazing in this film.
But at 107 minutes the pace is fast, and Steers tends to rush over some of the deeper and introspective moments our characters have in favour of moving to the next part of the story. Plus there’s a scene where Darcy dives into a lake for no discernible reason other than the fact that they had to recreate that other iconic scene from the Colin Firth mini-series version. And even though this is labelled a horror film there’s only a limited amount of gore going on but what we do see is pretty gruesome. Really these are minor quibbles in an otherwise fun and ridiculous movie. Pride And Prejudice And Zombies won’t make waves in any long term sort of capacity but if you want to watch some pretty British 19th century guys and gals slicing and dicing some zombies whilst waxing lyrical about the difficulties of relationships then this is your film.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 107 minutes
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is screening in Australian cinemas now through Roadshow Films