Jane Austen would be rolling in her grave. Unless, of course, she’s risen from eternal slumber and is on the hunt for brains to feast on. Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is a very expensive one note joke, undoubtedly the consequence of somebody noticing how ridiculous the title of the celebrated Jane Austen novel would sound if ‘and Zombies’ were added to the end of it. It’s difficult to imagine a more unnecessary addition to Austen’s plot than the undead. This film does nothing to dissuade that sentiment.
There’s fleeting humour in the joke that zombies shouldn’t accompany Austen’s prose. But the film last for almost two-hours more than the joke does. Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is disjointed plot elements from Austen’s novel, slightly altered without wit or charm to include zombies. It will appeal to neither the Austen fanatics nor the undead enthusiasts. Instead, the target audience of this film must be a niche community of people with equal affection for both Jane Austen and zombies. Even those people will have to look beyond the inadequate filmmaking that prevents Pride And Prejudice And Zombies from becoming the towering masterwork it ought to have been. It might be better for those Austen/zombie enthusiasts to stay at home and watch a Sense And Sensibility/Night of the Living Dead double feature.
Where to start with the plot? Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James) is still a young, eligible woman. But now she’s an expert zombie killer. Mr Darcy (Sam Riley) is still a rich, aloof bachelor. Except now he’s an expert zombie killer. To understand the nuance with which director Burr Steers (with a name like that, perhaps the Western is a more appropriate genre than the Victorian zom com) has managed to adapt Austen’s tale to accommodate zombies, simply follow that pattern through with most of the other characters.
Mr. Collins (Matt Smith) remains largely unaltered and Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston) comes out particularly badly. But no worse than the filmmakers, the studio that green lit this depressing mess of a film, the author that wrote the novel from which this is based (Seth Grahame-Smith, not Austen, although Austen receives a writing credit whether she likes it or not) and, of course, the people who read that novel. There must have been an unreasonable number, considering that we are now faced with the imminent release of this film. There’s also a novel called Sense And Sensibility and Sea Monsters. “By Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters”, the cover proudly declares.
The very best moments in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (best is relative) are a result of the zombies intersecting with the excitement within the Bennett household regarding finding suitable husbands. It’s certainly a joke the filmmakers appear to have enjoyed themselves considering it is relentlessly repeated without a single thought to the wellbeing of the audience’s mental state. But then something even more curious occurs. The film largely jettisons the Austen elements and tries to engage as an action film. Narrative engagement, however, is a right reserved for films that don’t haphazardly throw the walking dead at disconnected elements of Jane Austen literature.
It’s tempting to suggest that Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is a sign of the times, but there has always been sludge of this calibre. It’s not such an awful thing that the film exists, but as it exists now it’s largely void of purpose, worth or creativity. This is a film that begins and ends with a gimmicky title. If you happen to find that title enormously funny, you still probably won’t like Pride And Prejudice And Zombies very much. This film was produced because someone noticed the undead’s absolute incompatibility with Jane Austen. Yep, that’s about right.