This odd pairing of genres sounds like a bad joke, but actually works surprisingly well.
To many, Jane Austen’s beloved classic “Pride and Prejudice” is one of those literary works that must never be tampered with. A revered masterpiece should only be treated with the utmost respect; a bad remake akin to painting the Mona Lisa with watercolors. But… every so often, an off the wall idea can transcend its own ridiculous concept, and work delightfully well. Nearly 200 years after Austen’s original, Seth Grahame-Smith released his version which exchanged the historical backdrop of the French Revolutionary War and Black Plague with a zombie pandemic.
Writer & Director Burr Steers has adapted this undead mashup for the screen, which for the most part, works beautifully. Austen’s overall story arch is still in place. Mr. Bennet’s (Charles Dance) five daughters are reaching marital age. The family is poor and his debts are all that he can leave to them. Property could only be passed onto a male heir, so if none of the daughters were married, at Mr. Bennet’s passing their home would belong to Parson Collins (Matt Smith), their annoyingly feminine first cousin. Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) is almost delirious with the prospect of fixing her daughters up with the most eligible bachelors. “Eligible” meaning the richest. But the Bennet girls are not easily charmed. Prideful, well learned, and outspoken, they are intimidating to most men.
When the undead scourge infested Europe it became fashionable to train in the Asian Deadly Arts. The type of training you received was split down social lines. The rich favored the Japanese, while the wise trained in Chinese Shaolin styles. Being of the wiser demographic (and not-rich), the Bennet sisters were exceptionally trained, employing their “Bennet Pentagram of Death” formation whenever ghouls needed to be dispatched.
The biggest question surrounding this film is the tone it takes. Is it a spoof or comedy? While very humorous throughout, the subject matter for the most part is played seriously (but with a wink!) Laughs come from Elizabeth’s(Lily James) sharp retorts and stubbornness, or from how efficient and brutally her sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) dispatches of the carnivorous corpses. The Victorian Walkers are an interesting reinterpretation of classic zombies. After being bitten and passing away, not all of the freshly turned immediately kill others. Some, through sheer determination maintain their human personalities. But once they partake of human brains, the transformation accelerates rendering them ravenish monsters. This dynamic creates some interesting scenarios, but also plays a part in the low point in the film.
Steers wisely condenses much of the book, but in an effort to create a greater conflict and a clearly defined villain, ads a major subplot that feels out of place. On paper it sounds like an interesting concept: A group of zombies who turn to religion and other means to suppress their immoral desires. Unfortunately, the dialog is so obviously non-Austen that it’s uncomfortably out of place.
It’s a disappointing hiccup in an otherwise wonderful film. Everything (except the final fight scene) is beautiful. The cinematography, costume design, the ever present small details of a world overrun by the undead, and of course the incessantly heaving breasts of the Bennet Zombie Slayers.
“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” is certainly an unusual movie, but that adds to it’s charm. With romance, humor and gore, it has something for everyone and may likely be the best Valentine’s Day movies of the decade.
Note: Do yourself a favor and leave the minute the film ends. A mid-credit scene is meant to entice a possible sequel but instead cheapens the overall experience.