Burr Steers’ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies arrives at an awkward time for horror mash-ups.
Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austen), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies combines elements of Jane Austen’s seminal novel with the horror genre, particularly zombies. Horror mash-ups have never managed to attain much popularity, nor have they moved passed the experimental phase. While some lower budget films have been successful (the countless Godzilla films, for example), mainstream blockbusters haven’t seen much success – films like Stephen Sommer’s Van Helsing (2004) and Stephen Norrington’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) were critical and financial failures. Zombies never feels quite as disjointed or haphazardly directed (although Van Helsing is admittedly a lot of fun), but Steers’ never really makes a compelling argument for its existence.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies revises Jane Austen’s story so that it takes place in an alternate universe where England is plagued by an illness that raises the dead. The Bennet sisters remain graceful and beautiful, but are now trained in the deadly art of martial arts. Zombies follows most of the structural beats of its 19th century source material: Mr. Bennet (the invariably underused Charles Dance) attempts to find suitors for each of his daughters, leading to the courting of Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, from the recent live-action Cinderella film) by “General” Darcy (Sam Riley). Like all adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, the usual exchange of invective and barrage of repartee are present here. But, this one has zombies.
The deceptive trailers suggested that the filmmakers had played the concept straight, missing the opportunity for an amusing interventional parody of Pride & Prejudice. To a certain extent, the film is actually quite funny, and fully acknowledges the silliness of the premise while also remaining as true as possible to the themes of Austen’s original novel. The first two acts are playful with the mash-up possibilities, the third act is sober and serious to a fault.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an artfully made film: well-shot, well-designed, and save for Jack Huston’s Mr. Wickham, well-acted. The zombies themselves are visually striking, with their bloodied and torn 19th century clothing. As well, the zombies never quite feel as awkwardly inserted as the film’s title might suggest.
Zombies never really reaches its full potential as a mash-up. While certainly well-made to a degree, its painfully serious third act and general lack of ambition beyond its concept make for a disappointing albeit relatively entertaining film.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile