Jane Austen’s classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is mashed up with a zombie movie delivering zero thrills and mixed results.
The idea is a good one. Take classic pieces of literature and lace them with the modern zombie tropes to add a new layer of nuance, while making the story more visceral for today’s audiences. A troubled film project, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies struggled for years in development hell. At one point Natalie Portman signed on as the lead, only to step up to Executive Producer on the film. The biggest problem with the project was how to approach the material without alienating possible segments of the audience. On the one hand this was a period piece about marriage and propriety in 19th century England. On the other hand this was also a zombie movie about brain-hungry monsters. To cater to either taste too much would alienate the possible audience for the other.
Writer, Director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) ended up valliantly attempting to solve this conundrum. We end up with something that is mildly entertaining while not satisfying either task. Starting off with an intriguing prologue, we see Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley), the dark, brooding fellow, as he locates a possible zombie infestation at a whist social. This is of course, our hero, and we get a taste for how he functions as a gentleman and zombie slayer in society. This is followed by a wonderfully rendered title sequence that gives the very dense set up to the story. Starting with the Black Plague, England became overrun with flesh-eating zombies. To protect themselves, the city folk along with its outlying countryside, surrounded themselves with a 100ft tall perimeter and a 30 foot deep moat. A staggering feat for the time. It is also explained that any society member in good standing was to learn self defense.
The story opens on the Bennet sisters, Jane the oldest of the bunch (Bella Heathcote) and the headstrong Elizabeth (Lily James) sit with their other two sisters while polishing guns while discussing marriage and the possibility of securing a future through the proper husband. There are two major suitors up for grabs, Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth ) and the aforementioned Mr. Darcy. Jane is after Bingley, while her sister Elizabeth fancies the more aggressive Darcy. News arrives of a ball that night and all of the girls suit up and head out.
That night, the ball is raided by zombies and we see through just how well the four sisters can defend themselves. The men are no match for them and neither are the zombies. Intrigue follows as we learn that there is a catch of zombies outside the protective walls that mean to sustain themselves on pig brains, not human ones, in an attempt to stave off the craving for human flesh. Why? To perhaps blend with regular society again. Meanwhile, are also warned of the impending arrival of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the coming end of mankind.
As the story progresses there are proposals made and battles had. James is a standout in her role as the plucky Elizabeth. As if picked for her resemblance to Portman herself, James holds presence on the screen against pretty much anything else that is going on. The moments between she and Riley’s Darcy are fun to watch and they certainly have a chemistry.
The biggest problem with the movie is that the very delicately crafted PG-13 level blood and gore keeps things from really becoming interesting. The action sequences are muted by poor editing, muddy lighting, and shots so out of focus that one cannot relish the gore that should be there. As for the story, it is a streamlined to its detriment. In an attempt to simplify the social nuances of the original Austen story, we don’t connect with the characters. The result is a film that is aimed at everyone while pleasing few.
This is not a bad film, just not a remarkable innovation of genre mashing. Save this for Netflix folks and it will be money well spent.
Norm(an) Gidney is a nearly lifelong horror fan. Beginning his love for the scare at the age of 5 by watching John Carpenter's Halloween, he set out on a quest to share his passion for all things spooky with the rest of the world.