Jane Austen gets an undead mash-up in the film version of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, which took the original text of Pride & Prejudice and added in a whole lot of zombies. The movie has had a somewhat troubled history, with various directors and actors coming and going, and with the whole thing looking like they’d given up on it several times. However, finally Lionsgate got it in the can with Burr Steers (Charlie St. Cloud) directing and Lily James and Sam Riley starring.
As you would expect, the Bennet sisters are living in Hertfordshire, with their mother keen to marry them off to eligible men. While Lydia, Mary and Kitty seem keen to take any suitable gent, Elizabeth (James) is more headstrong and independent. While fending off the advances of Parson Collins (Matt Smith), she meets the exceedingly rich Darcy (Riley), who she takes an immediate dislike to, seeing him as rude, judgemental and unpleasant.
That’s nothing new, but what is fresh is that the Bennet sisters aren’t just hanging around to be married, as they have been trained in combat to fight off the zombie hoards which have infected England. London has been surrounded by a 100ft wall, the armies are killing the undead left, right and centre, and it turns out the massed zombies may not be quite as stupid as they first appear.
There’s always a danger with a movie like this that, as with Snakes On A Plane, just because the title is fun and evocative, doesn’t mean that the resulting movie will be anything more than a single, long, drawn-out joke. To an extent it’s something Pride & Prejudice & Zombies has difficulty overcoming. It tries its damnedest to add in humour and some real horror to the regency mix, and also ensures that the zombie angle isn’t just a completely random addition by creating a whole plot involving them and what they’re up to. Even so, it takes a long time to stop feeling like an idea that’s better in your head than on the screen.
Although not totally undead, the movie takes an awful long time to figure out what it’s all about, with the result that the storytelling suffers. Indeed, there are moment where even the filmmakers seem to be trying to get the first half of the movie out of the way as quickly as possible, because they’re not really all that interested in it. Thankfully though, things pick up in the second half, when the mixture of Jane Austen romance, zombie horror and action movie pulls together and comes to life. It’s partly because before this, the period drama and zombies sit beside one another but never completely feel tied together. When it works out how the fractious romance between Elizabeth and Darcy, the dubious attentions of Wickham (Jack Huston) and the zombie threat are all connected it becomes a much better film.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies does have a go at some sort of social commentary, vaguely hinting every so often about parallels to class warfare and that perhaps the upper class people are bringing the zombie threat on themselves by underestimating what the undead are capable of. However, it very quickly gets confused and doesn’t really go anywhere.
Ultimately it is a one-joke film, but it is an okay joke and one that picks up as it goes along, leading to a final 25 minutes that are pretty damn good.
Overall Verdict: Although it initially feels like a concept in search of a storyline to make it worthwhile, once Pride & Prejudice & Zombies works out how to brings all its ideas together, it’s pretty fun. It takes a while to get going though.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac