Final Rating: 7/10
While Elizabeth Bennett shall forever remain iconic for her swift wit, fierce protectiveness and independence, there is something immensely satisfying about the added skills of yielding a katana and dropkicking zombies in her repertoire.
That is the oddly enjoyable essence of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a mash up between Jane Austen’s original 19th century societal commentary/romance and horror originally spun by author Seth Grahame-Smith in his 2009 novel. At its best, the gory circumstances of a zombie apocalypse ups the action ante, feminist undertones and pacing; at its worst, it quickly becomes an overcrowded flow of characters and subplots that teeters into elements of young adult film fare, which means yes, there is room for a sequel.
Lilly James stars as Elizabeth Bennett who, along with her four sisters, is encouraged by her father (Charles Dance) to train and become a lethal fighter, while her mother is more focused on marrying her daughters. When Mrs. Bennett discovers that a wealthy suitor named Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) has moved to their town and will attend a local festivity, she ensures all of her children are primed in their corsets and skirts (with a few slots for knives) in hopes of one of them bonding with the bachelor. As it happens, eldest daughter Jane and Mr. Bingley have an instant connection, while Elizabeth encounters Bingley’s cold friend and famed zombie slayer, Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley). The party quickly turns amuck as a herd of zombies invades the grounds; it’s also just about when the crossover becomes as interesting as it is questionable.
Director-screenwriter Burr Steels (17 Again) occasionally overcomes the significant challenges in connecting the Pride and Prejudice plot with the zombie setting. Whether it be the Bennett sister squad hacking through an army of the undead or Darcy’s increased judgment against those who are reckless in the face of such a threat, there’s a certain enhancement to the fierce characterizations and societal analysis that Austen sets out in her writings. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies even attempts to retain her charming elements. Mr. Collins (Matthew Smith of Dr.Who fame) is still a humorous point as the Bennett’s silly cousin and prospect for Elizabeth; James is both affectionate and protective as the lead; Riley manages Darcy’s mysteriousness and disgruntled ways with the same proprietary air; even Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Heady), developed as a legendary warrior and Darcy’s aunt, retains the same meddling and intimidating ways central to her character with the bonus of swordsmanship. There are sweet giggles, well-coordinated dances, classic one-liners and tea in between.
Despite the fun fantasy that is conjured in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the story needs to remind itself that it has to tie these two pivotal elements together, resulting in condensed versions of many of the complex and intertwined relationships to make room for the horror element. It’s not the fact that there are cuts that detract from the film, because those are inevitable; but the zombie treatment, and even Wickham’s role, particularly in the third act, evolve into cartoon-y YA elements that snap you out of the appealing parts of this cross-over story and wish for more time spent on Darcy and Elizabeth. It is not enough to wreck a film with some great fight choreography, genuine wit and entertaining performances, but the dose is potent enough that you will question whether or not universal truths needed to be examined with an apocalyptic lens.