Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is adapted from the book of the same name, and it is exactly what you think. Jane Austen’s famous characters return to the big screen, only now they aren’t combating class and gender barriers, they are samurai fighting zombies.
The film, understanding that the audience is likely already familiar with the Austen classic, begins with some heavy handed exposition revolving around the nature of the narrative’s zombie outbreak. This opening scene involves an interesting point of view shot that comes from a unique perspective, to say the least. Unfortunately, camera tricks like these don’t come back again.
The film takes much of its comedy from keeping somewhat close to the parodied source material. Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) still has the one-track mind of getting all of her daughters married. Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) is still gruff and dismissive about Mrs. Bennet’s actions. And the love story is held largely intact. All the while, zombies intermittently appear and break up the story.
The comedy is predicated on this, but it is also where the film falls sharply flat. The comedy stems from conceit. The juxtaposition of Victorian proprerness that is prevalent thematically in Austen with the absurdity of action violence with zombies is all well and good, if not overdone too quickly. In short, it is impossible to carry a conceit of this nature through a feature length runtime without providing more to grip onto.
This would normally come in the form of rich characters that the audience can attach themselves to. In this unique case, character is an obvious emptiness given the characters are less-than caricatures of the parodied source material.
The film has interesting takes on the source material, such as the class structure featured heavily in Austen’s satire being based on whether people train zombie warrior fighting in Japan or China. But these moments are few and far between, not nearly enough to get a worthwhile parody.
Most of the acting performances are strong. Most noteworthy is former Dr. Who actor Matt Smith, who plays the clumsy Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins’ character is largely preserved from Austen’s work, bumbling and idiotic, and Smith plays him with a comedic timing that is refreshing.
The leads also turn in worthy performances. Lily James and Douglas Booth have chemistry enough to push the narrative forward, and James leads the film with energy that keeps her scenes entertaining.
The action choreography during the intermittent periods of zombie violence that is almost always inconsequential is commendable. However, these moments also crescendo the soundtrack to the point of grating. The sound mixing in this film is sorely unbalanced which takes time to get used to, ruining the early action scenes as a result.
What is mainly at issue with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is its lack of narrative suspense. Realizing early on that the film is going to follow the romantic plots of Austen as closely as possible, the stakes are deflated. Characters exist in their own predetermined arcs that makes it impossible for them to really be put in danger. Thus, the action sequences are less about suspense and more about petty gore.
Given the conceit is so integral to the nature of the film, the lack of suspense makes the novel addition to a classic formula useless. The action is action, but it isn’t a narrative addition. The narrative, at its heart, is a watered down version of one of the greatest novels of all time.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies boils down to a mediocre adaptation with zombies added in for extra flair. Where the story does diverge from the source material, it is intriguing, but there isn’t enough of these divergences to make the film an enjoyable parody.
All that this film spurred in me was a desire to re-read Pride and Prejudice and then watch Shaun of the Dead. This film is just a muddy in-between, and it doesn’t work as a whole even if some of its parts are enjoyable.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)