It is a truth universally acknowledged that a literary classic must be in want of flesh-eating monsters…
The cynical amongst us will look at the title Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and ask the simple question; ‘why does this exist?’. It’s a good question and the two most readily available answers are; in order to produce a thoughtful, smart intervention into the original text or simply for the sheer hell of it. Unfortunately this adaptation for the most part doesn’t try to do anything particularly clever with its concept but thankfully it does strive for fun; broadly succeeding as a joyfully irreverent interpretation of Austen’s work.
There is a fair amount of humour to be found in mixing Austen’s world of whist parties and dances with spraying blood, martial arts and zombies. Dance halls become bloodbaths when the Bennett sisters use their Shaolin training to carve up the unwelcome undead party guests. It’s so lacking in subtlety and is so ridiculous that it actually works, however the film’s reliance on this one joke throughout means that about half an hour in you’re looking in vain for the film to mix things up again. It’s perhaps a compliment to Austen’s novel that the greatest tension felt in a zombie movie isn’t the inserted jump scares but the original class divisions, conversations and misunderstood intentions. Although many of the novel’s greatest jokes and observations are not in the script, mostly because they wouldn’t quite work in the re-imagined world, there is still enough of her fierce wit left behind to guide the cast through.
The greatest joy found here is with the supporting cast; Matt Smith is perhaps the stand out as the perfectly idiotic Mr Collins, Lena Headey brings her Game of Thrones icy steel to the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Charles Dance brings a sense of gravitas and warmth to the production as the Bennet girls’ father. Lily James as Lizzy and Sam Riley as Darcy are both fine in their roles, but the script doesn’t allow them to be much more than Sparknote outlines of their characters. The lifeblood of these two characters is the various interactions they have with each other, when the film strips away the depth found in the novel (or in fact in other adaptations) the two become rather lifeless. The film ultimately relies on us already caring about its characters before it opens. There is little which gets us invested in the romance between Lizzy and Darcy, or even Bingley and Jane for that matter. Their getting together is just a given, its simply one of the story beats which the script knows it must hit whilst playfully inserting zombie mayhem.
Whilst this film often exercises a rather fun silliness which makes it an enjoyable enough distraction for an hour or two, it unfortunately falls short of being the greater end result which it could have been. It makes the mistake of resisting the original text rather than letting the zombie elements marrying with them. This tension winds up making the original text and the intervention slightly at odds with one another. Whilst the premise could have allowed us to have a clever take on the romance genre ala Shaun of the Dead, this is closer to the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayers of this world. It’s entertaining for what it is but one feels it could have been so much more.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is out today (27th) on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!