UK Release Date: 11th February 2016
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Burr Steers
Writer: Burr Steers
Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Douglas Booth, Bella Heathcote, Suki Waterhouse, Charles Dance, Matt Smith, Lena Headey
Synopsis: Jane Austen’s iconic romance novel gets a macabre twist as England’s high society becomes infested with the undead, until the Bennet sisters take up arms and mount a fightback.
The genre mash-up is a hot topic in Hollywood right now, with filmmakers keen to push the hybridisation elements further and further. Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mixed the period romantic drama of the original Jane Austen story with lashings of both horror and comedy. It’s a combination of disparate elements that are somehow brought together by 17 Again director Burr Steers into a perfectly pleasant slice of entertainment in which there are as many decapitations as dresses and more clashes than corsets.
Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and her sisters have been highly trained by their father (Charles Dance) to fend for themselves in zombie-infested England. Their mother hopes to set them up with the wealthy Mr Bingley (Douglas Booth) and they attend a dance, where they meet his sullen friend Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley). The arrival of the incredibly handsome Mr Wickham (Jack Huston) brings into question the sisters’ warrior existence as the zombies gear up to take ultimate control of the country.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a movie so bizarre in terms of its genre make-up that it is always going to have issues with managing its tone. Director Steers doesn’t have the confidence necessary to take mastery of that tone and, as a result, the film becomes stuck in the middle of its horror/comedy/period genre triangle. It’s neither funny enough, dramatic enough or horrific enough to fit comfortably into any category.
I do not know which I admire more – your skill as a warrior or your resolve as a woman.
Despite that, though, the film is incredibly entertaining. The inherent silliness of the premise is enough to create some great moments of comedy, helped by a tremendously bumbling comic performance from former Doctor Who star Matt Smith. Smith, as Parson Collins, is a consistent scene-stealer who gets many of the film’s best lines. Those around him play their roles largely straight, which gives Smith room to play for outrageous laughs in a supporting role.
Lily James, last seen donning a more colourful gown in Cinderella, brings a fearsome charisma to the lead role of Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The film feels rather prescient given its feminist subtext, skewering the decidedly marriage-centric stance of the original story. The male roles are considerably less interesting, with Sam Riley giving a deeply odd turn as Darcy and Douglas Booth once again being upstaged by his own cheekbones.
The film’s action sequences are helped by pleasingly grotesque creature effects, with the zombies nicely realised when they’re in small numbers. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does, however, fall down noticeably when it tries to bring on a more substantial zombie horde, falling apart as a result of its diminutive budget. The climax is hurt by a somewhat underwhelming approach to the action and a twist mid-credits sting that doesn’t seem to make much sense at all.
Daughters do not dance well with masticated brains.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a flawed film that never manages to get the measure of its difficult tonal balancing act. It has a real sense of fun, though, that keeps the tone light even as the piles of corpses mount up and the swords fly. In the hands of a more accomplished director, the material might have found its flow, but this serves as a decent enough take on a difficult story to adapt on a low budget.
Pop or Poop?
Game performances and some fun sequences of overblown violence help to carry Seth Grahame-Smith’s unique take on the work of Austen to the big screen in interesting fashion. There are shortcomings to Pride and Prejudice at Zombies, but it flies off the screen when it embraces the unavoidable silliness of a film in which high society grapples with the undead.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.