Star Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Wouldn’t it be interesting to add a modern day horror twist to a piece of classic, public domain, literature? Thats the question Quirk Books asked as they published the books Pride and Prejudice and Zombies along with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and The Meowtomorphasis and Android Karenina. The first of those being the only one to be turned into a feature length film directed by Burr Steers with a screenplay written by Steers based on the book written by Seth Grahame-Smith and “co-authored” by Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies prides itself in adding a fun twist on the original source material, but the film itself is anything but fun. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might just be the most generic film I’ve ever watched.
For those unfamiliar with Pride and Prejudice, the focus of the story is on the Bennet household. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (played by Sally Philips and Charles Dance) have five daughters, and because the Bennet estate is entailed, it can only pass to a male heir. The Bennet’s desire for each of their five daughters to marry wealthy men so they can continue to live the life they leave. During a ball at a nearby estate Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) meets Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), who finds Elizabeth unattractive. Elizabeth’s sister, Jane (Bella Heathcote), attracts the attention of Mr. Bingly (Douglas Booth), the young gentleman having the ball. It is from this point forward that the Bennet sister’s lives are intertwined with the Bingly’s and Mr. Darcy as Jane and Mr. Bingly build a relationship together. Because Mr. Bennet’s estate must pass to a male heir, Parson Collins (Matt Smith) is brought to their estate. Mr. Collins believes that he will marry one of Mr. Bennet’s daughters as a result, but none of the Bennet girls are attracted to him. Both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy fight feelings for each other, and when Mr. Darcy proposes, his affections are made clear to Elizabeth. At this point in the story, however, she detests Mr. Darcy even more for his supposed treatment of George Wickham (Jack Huston), a solider, after Elizabeth and Wickham become closely acquainted. The entire story is a mess that questions who Elizabeth is going to end up with. Will she overcome her pride and marry Mr. Darcy, or will she continue her relationship with George Wickham, who is significantly less reputable. It’s easy to imagine how much messier this story is with zombies added.
If there was one thing to commend in the film, it would be the way it adds new elements to the original Pride and Prejudice story. Without sacrificing the core story, the film manages to add martial arts and zombies into a story about love and relationships in 19th century England. There are entire scenes with dialogue that sounds like it was ripped right from the pages of Pride and Prejudice, with different actions taking place. For example, it is not rain that forces Jane to stay at the Bingly estate due to sickness, it’s a zombie attack and fear of further infection. When George Wickham runs away with Lydia, it is discovered that he is a zombie and as a soldier, he is trying to lead the zombies against the last vestiges of England. The George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has no intentions of eloping. There are so many elements that are clearly ripped out of the pages of Jane Austen’s book, with a few additions thanks to Seth Grahame-Smith, however, it is those same additions that make the film so bland.
While the film succeeds as an adaptation of Jane Austen’s book, the film fails in it’s adaptation/addition of the zombie elements of Grahame-Smith’s book. You’d be forgiven for forgetting there are any zombies at all in this film until the third act. Everything up until then is focused on the drama of the Bennet girls, and even after that, the zombies barely make an appearance. I think Steers was aware of this when writing the screenplay because theres an extra plot thread involving the four horseman of the apocalypse, the antichrist, and the zombies maintaining their humanity by eating pig brains. This added mystery to the story makes the film sound more interesting than it is because in the end theres one showdown between Mr. Darcy and Wickham and nothing more.
The biggest issue facing the film is that it wasn’t bad, and at the same time it wasn’t even remotely interesting. Matt Smith steals the show in every scene his is in as the flamboyant Parson Collins while Charles Dance and Lena Headey are severely under utilized. The rest of the cast consists of relative no-names, with the exception of Jack Huston, perhaps, who will probably gain more notoriety as time goes on. In an attempt to introduce some tension to the zombies, the film has a habit of showing things from the zombie’s point of view, which is ultimately distracting and reduces any sort of surprise in their attacks. It is a lazy plot device meant to add tension and artificial fear to the character’s otherwise normal lives. When it comes to transitioning from period-drama to zombie-action-flick, the film does a terrible job. Not only are the zombies boring, but so are the fight scenes. The only fight in the film that is somewhat enjoyable to watch is the scene when Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth. The scene has noticeable choreography that is actually done well. There is purpose to everything the two characters do. Whereas a fight with he zombies comes across as lazy. There are no rapid cuts or shaky camera to make the fight seem more intense, instead the fights just seem generic.
Because the film tries so hard to incorporate a zombie element to the Pride and Prejudice story, the best word to describe this film is ‘generic.’ The characters are plain. There’s no real climax with the zombies, even if the film wants there to be one. There are even plot threads that sound more interesting than they end up being. If Steers had made a straight adaptation of Pride and Prejudice the film would have succeeded on so many levels. The acting was good, the costumes were good, the sets were beautifully designed. The film did a good job looking good. If only that were enough to make a film good. The plot between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth is interesting, and so is the introduction of Parson Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. There is enough to make you care about the characters and their relationships and love-triangles. There just isn’t enough plot development to make you care about the zombies and whether they exist in this film or not.