Novelist Seth Grahame Smith has been doing some serious tweaking with established history and material. He mashed together vampires and history with Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, and then made Pride and Prejudice more exciting by adding zombies into the mix. A combo of Jane Austen and zombies sounds almost too good to be true, but unfortunately as was the case with Lincoln, the new film also fails to generate much of a spark.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies actually opens fairly well. A Colonel named Darcy travels to a wealthy family household to investigate a zombie outbreak. He produces a small flask of flies that can detect zombies. The flies buzz around and sit on the man of the house. Darcy then exterminates the man. The scene plays out in a kind of richly textured, darkly funny fashion. The moment the film gets into the meat of the story, however, things begin to fall apart at the seams.
We’re introduced to the Bennet sisters Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), and Mary (Millie Brady) who have mastered some Kung Fu Karate shotgun technique to fight zombies. Their father wants them to be married off to suitors, so they all attend a ball hosted by the Bingley family, which is predictably attacked by zombies.
Once this ball is done and dusted with, and the zombies have been vanquished, we move on to another ball where another horde of zombies attack. The repetitious nature of the film becomes tedious in nature, and no amount of glossy set design and snazzy cinematography can mask the shoddy story.
The only interesting angle in the story is Darcy’s aunt Lady Catherine (Lena Headey) who is a supposed grand champion of zombie killing but before her character actually makes a big difference in the story the focus shifts back to the old English style love triangle between Elizabeth, Darcy and Wickham (Jack Huston), a soldier who has a soft spot for the zombies.
There’s a brief fun scene where we see zombies being fed pig brains to keep them from craving for human brains (because that’s what turns them savage), but it’s just a fleeting reminder of how this film could have been rather than what it is. Mixing horror and comedy is tough in itself, but when you mix in classic literature with an already potent combo it becomes a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
It’s clear why the film doesn’t work despite the apparent fun elements – it is because it is written and directed by Burr Steers, who has earlier made mediocre comedies like How to lose a guy in 10 days and 17 Again.
None of those films featured material that rises above the ‘safe’ zone, and in a movie such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which needs that extra edgy visual and narrative dimension, Steers fails to generate anything either dark or entertaining. The title is absurd but the film isn’t absurd enough. What we have is a tiresome jaunt of faux English accents bleached in a substandard Victorian dye.