“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and disapointment

From the minute it was announced, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” already had plenty of problems. Going through three directors and multiple recasts seemed to be the least of its worries.

Not only was it released in a month far better known for romances than horror stories, but the mashup concept director Burr Steers has a stigma many wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies—trying to adapt not just one, but two books into screen format.

As someone who has never read the parody novel by Seth Grahame-Smith that shares the film’s name, I cannot say how it holds up to the original in that regard. But, as someone who’s well-acquainted with Jane Austen’s zombieless version, and as an overly critical aspiring writer, I can honestly say that this film certainly fails to put a new spin on “Pride and Prejudice”.

The plot of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” for the most part, follows the general plot of the Austen original while putting its own supernatural details into the mix. The ball scenes of Victorian England are interrupted by undead party crashers so often that it can make you wonder why Parliament never thought to ban such celebrations in the first place. This is quickly explained by a bit of historical revisionism: in this alternate England, it is not the Black Plague but a zombie plague that infected the citizens.

The government’s typical solution to the problem is to build a massive wall around the entire city, that one can enter London via a single bridge. As per cliché, the “urban fortress” idea does little to keep the undesirable monsters out. In the midst of the increasing zombie threat, the five Bennet sisters struggle to find suitable husbands when they’re not hunting down the undead with swords, guns and martial arts.

As the threat of invasion mounts, the second-oldest sister, Elizabeth (Lily James) finds herself sparring with Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley), a mysterious zombie hunter who’s made his way into town. She falls for Wickham (Jack Huston), a soldier with a plan to make peace with the undead. However, once the zombies make their full presence known, the movie increasingly sheds its Jane Austen heritage to become a generic zombie blockbuster.

Courtesy of VistaNow
Courtesy of VistaNow

By this point, the novelty has already run out. Much of the fun that comes from watching “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” lies in the simpler details of the absurd world it explores: seeing corseted young women slaying zombies with swords and seeing the invasion’s effects on the aesthetic of Victorian England, for instance.

Much of this juxtaposition also contributes to the film’s downfall. In a culture increasingly periled by zombies, it seems unlikely that upward mobility and marriage prospects would take up as much focus as they do here. This gives the film has a sort of whiplash-like tendency to go from lush depictions of Austen’s original novel to blood-spattered figures. This makes it feel much more rushed than it actually is. The two interwoven storylines never really mold into one larger plot.

More importantly the added bells and whistles the zombie plotline brings keep the audience from really connecting with the distinctive characters of “Pride and Prejudice.” The actors all give decent performances, albeit with sometimes incomprehensible faux-British accents, but with two plots to juggle, to say that character development takes second priority would be an understatement. The characters are much more of archetypical pawns designed to serve a certain purpose.

One could argue that was the purpose Austen had in mind. But at least one could reasonably say her iteration had brains to spare.


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