About a year ago, I picked up the graphic novel for Seth Grahame-Smith’s reimagining of Jane Austen’s best known book, Pride and Prejudice. The writer of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter basically took the events that transpire between the Bennet family and the all the daughter’s hopeful suitors and shoehorns a zombie apocalypse plot in because, well, why not I guess. It’s almost needless to say by the tone of my writing but I was not a fan. It felt cheap and easy, something I’m sure even Jane Austen herself would be a little perturbed by.
As much as I disliked the source material, I was still very willing to give a movie adaptation of it a chance. It was only until the trailer was released that I was immediately reminded of the last time Grahame-Smith’s work was adapted, the aforementioned Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. This was an absolutely horrid movie from Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov, a theatre outing that may have gone better if it was like Abe’s last one. As I saw the slow motion action sequences in the ad for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, memories of the horse tossing sequences in the other film rose as if I saw them yesterday. Oh, this could be really bad.
To set the story, it’s very much on par with the original story. There are five Bennet sisters that their mother is trying to marry off to rich families as their in hopes to protect the family home when their father (Charles Dance) eventually passes away. Elizabeth Bennet’s tumultuous road to the love of her life Fitzwilliam Darcy and the events leading up to it are played against the bloody action (and gorier in the book) of fighting zombies.
This is a different England because of the rise of the zombie virus which has taken over the country, leaving only a small area for humanity to inhabit. The battle against the undead has ravaged for years and is rising to a threatening crescendo. Even still, life carries on in the protected areas, the every day societal happenings still transpiring In the class system, the changes come with aristocrats opting for a Japanese style of fight and the others, including the Bennets, are trained by Shaolin monks in China, learning wushu.
This is what sets the Bennet sisters apart from the other marriageable women, is their ability to dispatch zombies like no other, an obvious but unused strength that probably would have helped the British defeat the zombie hordes but, sexism being what it is, of course nobody thinks that. Elizabeth continues on her track as Austen wrote her, a strong independent free thinking woman, something that’s a little exploited in this movie.
Coming from director Burr Steers, who started his career with the great Igby Goes Down and hasn’t quite hit that level again, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, even with it’s odd subject matter, never becomes interesting. The pacing is a mish mash between quick and dreadfully slow and the geography is complete nonsense and would confuse you if you tried to put it together. Just like the book, again, nothing stands out to me at all as there is zero ingenuity beyond telling an old story with a horror twist. Getting to see a visual element is the only way I think this betters the source material.
I also feel like all the actors in this film just limp along with the cliched foppish dialogue, Matt Smith seeming to be the only one having any fun with it as Mr. Collins, the heir to the Bennet estate. Lily James, who was so good in Cinderella, does her best to really project as the lead but never rises as a star. My biggest disappointment, a continued malady, is Sam Riley who is gruff sounding throughout and sourly wooden, as is his stance in most of his work. I loved him so much as the ill fated Ian Curtis in Anton Corbijn’s Joy Division film Control but have never seen anything else of mention.
The only other note of mention comes from Game of Thrones and Dredd heavy Lena Headey, who appears in this as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the war hardened foil to our protagonist Elizabeth Bennet. Rocking an eye patch and a “holier than thou” attitude, Headey conquers this role as we know she should. Heck, that movie is far more interesting to me, Lady Catherine’s war journal.
I also feel a bit lost on who the target market is here. The book was a good seller, so I know the fans of the book will check it out but the odd mashing of genres is sure to turn audiences on either side off. The Jane Austen romance side may be a bit turned off by the Walking Dead again influencing something it really should have no business touching and for zombie fans, the PG-13 rating takes the teeth and viscera right out of being interesting to any aficionado. This film is teetering on the hope that it can dupe either side.
Definitely not a romantic movie fan and feeling a little faded from the zombie genre, this film completely fizzled on me within the first hour. The inconsistency with it’s style and jarring and confusing musical shifts between romantic period piece and horror film completely lost me. Being it was still January when I saw this I really want to blame it on that, but unfortunately this is a February release, hopefully the last in a series of terrible weeks. I give Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a one and a half out of five.