Toeing the line between action-comedy and an undead period piece with all the restraint of a ’90s blockbuster, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is a silly exercise in post-apocalyptic escapism.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies tells the story of sisters raised on the deadly arts, as well as the men who want their hand in marriage in the early 1800s amidst the Regency era of Mad King George III. There is also a zombie uprising, and with each passing day hordes of the walking dead inch closer to the land of the living. That doesn’t matter all that much at first, as love is what rules all in this twisted take on a literary classic, but in time the rotting flesh of loved ones long thought passed is all anyone can discuss.
The Bennet sisters—Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber) and Mary (Millie Brady)—have all received training in China from Shaolin monks and from their father. Their mother, Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips), wants her daughters to be married to wealthy suitors. When our story begins a wealthy family has just moved in nearby and the Bennet sisters are preparing to attend the family’s first ball. It is a goal of the girls’ mother to have one of her daughters swept away by the family’s only son, Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), and sure enough that is just what comes to pass. Before anyone can get too carried away however, zombies arrive and ruin the night.
This is more or less how the zombie aspect of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies invades Jane Austen’s classic romance. Every major and minor turn from the original story is now bundled with a bit of zombie lore, gore or straight-up action. The latter comes in minimum doses at first, but by the third act there is nearly as much violence on-screen as there is sappy dialogue. Burr Steers’ screenplay, which is based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name, tries to shoehorn in romantic twists that are never given the emotional base necessary to leave any kind of remarkable impact on the viewers. Relationships spark and fizzle just as fast as the action comes and goes, but neither one lingers long enough to engage the viewer beyond momentary amusement.
I could dive further into the story of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, but aside from the impending undead uprising there really isn’t much to share. Love blossoms then fades, only to blossom once again. Sometimes it works, but more often than not it doesn’t, and the rest of the time the characters are worried about what the future may hold. Zombies need mere seconds to reproduce, while humans have to wait nine months just to give birth to someone who will still need 16 years of training in order to properly fight. Men and women may be able to keep the undead at bay for now, but there is a looming doomsday on the horizon whose encroaching presence becomes increasingly hard to ignore at the story unfolds.
If the film’s third act showcased the battle teased from the opening frames there would likely be much to praise about Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, but the fighting largely takes place off-camera. Viewers only catch glimpses of the alleged carnage from a distance, or in passing while characters on horseback race to less-infected areas of the map. You feel for a while that this approach is meant to tease a big reveal later in the story, but then the credits roll and you realize the teasing never lead to anything. The zombies are, and arguably always were, a distraction from the watered down retelling of Austen’s timeless romance and nothing more.
While I believe Lily James will be able to use her turn as Elizabeth Bennet to pursue future roles and that Matt Smith may have found a new career for himself in comedy, everything and everyone else in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies feels entirely forgettable. Nothing about this film works as well as it should, and as a result the final product plays like a lukewarm version of something that could have been great if placed in more capable hands. Those familiar with Jane Austen will cry foul over the changes to her story, while those who love zombies will cry foul over how little their beloved monsters are utilized. I cannot think of a single audience for this film, and even if I could I don’t know that I would recommend them spending $12 a person to see PPZ projected onto a giant screen. Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is a film best reserved for a night at home alone with Netflix and a few too many alcoholic beverages.