Director: Burr Stevens
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Jack Huston, Matt Smith with Charles Dance and Lena Headey
Plot: While the Bennetts girls try to make themselves appealing enough for a marriage proposal, London is crippled by a zombie invasion.
Pride, Prejudice and Zombies gets by on an opening joke. It takes the common staple of the horror genre, the dreaded zombie invasion, and dumps it in the middle of a Jane Austen novel. Therefore we take every stock debate of the zombie genre, the uncomfortable realisation you must kill an old friend, how to harden yourself for a potential future assault and how to box yourself off from the hordes, but put it in the hands of the stuffy English gentry. It is a moderately funny gag, as the ladies and gentlemen of the movie try to ignore the ‘inconvenience’ of the walking dead at their door and turn their attention to more worthwhile tasks, like organising a ball or preparing their battle-hardened daughters for introductions to wealthy bachelors.
Sadly, the joke doesn’t quite fill a two hour tale. It earns a couple of chuckles along the way, but the rest of the film never quite comes up for a reason why it should even exist. Both the costume period drama and the zombie side of things are strangely stifled, almost as though, once the initial premise was confirmed, the rest of it was thrown together, like a movie-making machine on auto-pilot. The zombie stuff is a dreary affair, almost as though it is trying to be both suitable for children and healthy on the budget. They are always separate from the story, until needed, wandering off-screen and a hidden threat. When they attack, there are one too many shots of actors slashing off-screen, obviously avoiding the tricky affair of dismembering zombies on-screen. The action is very standard too, which is a shame, because occasionally one of the actresses, mainly an incredible Lily James, busts some astonishingly adept moves. The one thing this movie’s action segments does very well is introduce some strong female action heroes, especially in the early segments that sees the Bennett sisters, dressed in corsets and swords, slicing their way through every stereotype in the period drama’s book. If Austen’s novel was, arguably the start of literature’s strong female characters, there is a nice footnote to Stevens’ own adaptation, that this is a trend he continues very strongly. If only there were a few more sequences that made these kick-ass girls more than set-piece candy and a more holistic side to the narrative. The romance side of thing is routine as well. Pride and Prejudice has been done a lot and here, little new is brought to the table. It doesn’t help that we are pretty sure that, out of all of Elizabeth’s suitors, it will very likely be Mr. Darcy that gets the girl’s hand in marriage. The period drama side of things fails to justify its existence other than an attempt to both cling to the source material and kill time before the zombies show up. It gives the movie a stale feeling, adding to this sense that Pride, Prejudice and Zombies is simply another film that has gone through a machine, rather than something bursting with creativity and fun. Which is a shame, because a movie about Jane Austen versus zombies really should be just that.
The cast are game at the very least, becoming the saviour of the piece. The women are much stronger than the men, Riley, Booth and Huston trapped in the roles of smouldering male love interests. They are kept rigid, British and stoic, which traps any opportunity for a performance, especially with a script that clings to cliché as a part of the joke, rather than attempting to transcend expectation. As a result, there are moments Sam Riley’s zombie-hunter Mr. Darcy appears to take up too much of the film’s running time, when there are far more interesting characters that could be taking his place. On the plus side, the lacking in the male cast pave the way for some great female parts, namely Lily James. She owns the movie, realising that, at the very least, this mock-up zombie actioner works as a vehicle to show her off as a leading lady with a touch of action. She avoids the trap of many Austen pieces, in that the central female character is often surrounded by men offering to whisk her away to marriage, and remains a strong female hero to root for. Elizabeth Bennett is often seen frowning, yet escaping the Bella Swann look of constantly being comically pissed off, coming alive in the fight sequences. There is also strong support from Lena Headey as an under-used one-eyed zombie warrior. It would have been nice to see more of her, as the actress is in danger of constantly being compared to her portrayal of Cersei Lannister. Watch out for one scene where she sends a grunting, muscular henchman after Lily James that screams Game of Thrones. Speaking of Game of Thrones, Charles Dance is also here, mainly as a formal obligation as this is a period drama, needing a stern father figure that turns quite loveable in the end. Best of all of the supporting characters is easily Matt Smith, loving the fact he can expand from Doctor Who wherever he chooses. This time he plays the oddball potential husband, trying and failing to impress the Bennett girls. Every time he opens his mouth, the movie gets its best jokes and there is the sense that as the scene played out, Smith improvised almost every line, coming out with some baffling fuddy-duddy quotes that are so, very English. In short, if you don’t want to sit through the whole film, just pull up a montage reel of Matt Smith on Youtube and consider yourself saved the dull bits.
Final Verdict: It was a nice idea, especially with Lily James as the solid lead, but there is a sense no one was quite sure how to make the movie, resulting in a misfired routine adventure movie.