Synopsis: Jane Austen’s classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge — an army of undead zombies.
Release Date: February 5, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Action, Horror
Zombies have reached their saturation point in American society. They’ve not only jumped from the big screen to the small box with television shows like “The Walking Dead” and “iZombie,” but they’ve invaded the sanctity of classic literature with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Based on the parody mashup of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice by writer Seth Grahame-Smith (who was also the scribe behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the story of the Bennet sisters, a group of five young ladies in 19th century England whose mother, desperate to marry them off, sets them up with a variety of able-bodied suitors. The two oldest, Elizabeth and Jane (Lily James from Cinderella and Bella Heathcote from The Curse of Downers Grove, respectively) are the first to be brought out, and Jane finds a match with the handsome and rich Mr. Bingley (Jupiter Ascending‘s Douglas Booth).
Elizabeth also meets a prospective husband, the dark and dashing Mr. Darcy (Maleficent‘s Sam Riley), but the couple do not hit it off right away, and their courtship is complicated by the presence of a soldier named Leftenant Wickham (Jack Huston from American Hustle) who is equally dark and dashing, but a little more desirable to Elizabeth. Both women weave their way through their tangled webs of relationships in their respective quests to find husbands. That’s the Pride and Prejudice part.
England in the movie is also in the midst of a zombie uprising that threatens to become a full-on apocalypse. The quintet of sisters, rounded out by Millie Brady (Legend), Suki Waterhouse (Insurgent), and Ellie Bamber (“A Mother’s Son”), are zombie assassins, having been specially trained in close combat, both with and without weapons. Mr. Darcy’s whole lot in life is detecting and disposing of zombies that have infiltrated society, while Wickham works towards establishing a peace treaty with the undead. So there’s the zombie part.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was both adapted for the screen and directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down). As one might be able to figure out from the title (and synopsis), there are two movies at work in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Steers gets one of them right. Interestingly enough, it’s not the one that people might suspect.
Steers’ zombies are really cool. They’re not the slowly shuffling walking dead of the Romero movies, nor are they the quick-footed athletic zombies of modern movies like 28 Days Later. The zombies in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are intelligent, cognizant, and in some cases, actually reasonable. Really, the only way that one can tell that they are zombies is the fact that their flesh is rotting off of their bones.
The zombies were created by Oscar-winning makeup artist/creature designer Mark Coulier (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightbreed), and for the most part, they are practical applications on real actors and extras. The zombie makeup is fabulously disgusting, with jaws showing through rotted cheeks and eyes popping out of raw sockets. Steers does another fun thing with his zombies; he shows the audience parts of the film through their eyes with zombie POV shots that bring the undead to blurry, out-of-focus life. He may not break any huge new ground, but Steers does manage to do something new and fresh with the tired old zombie trope.
It’s the Pride and Prejudice parts of the movie that fall apart. The twisted romantic paths of the leads are convoluted and confusing, and the audience just ends up waiting for the zombies to show back up again. The undead-less sections of the film are tired and trite, full of heavy-handed exposition and forced passionless encounters. If one wants Pride and Prejudice, there have been scores of other adaptations of the book, all of them done better than this. The audience is there for the zombies, and aside from the last half hour or so, the zombies are too few and far between.
It’s worth noting that, although both only appear in small roles, there are not one, but two Lannisters from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Charles Dance, otherwise known as Tywin Lannister, plays the Bennet Sisters’ father, and Lena Headey, Cersei Lannister herself, makes a few all-too-brief appearances as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt and a legendary zombie-slayer in her own right. The film does not ride on either one of them, but “Game of Thrones” fans will enjoy seeing these two faces nonetheless.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is good for some brainless fun (no pun intended), but for the most part, it misses the mark; British romance fans will be confused by the appearance of the brain-eating ghouls, and zombie fans will find the underutilization of the awesome zombies unsatisfying. What Pride and Prejudice and Zombies really needs, quite literally, is more zombies.
The strongest aspect of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is, by far, the action sequences. The film is at its best when it tosses aside the pomp and circumstance and lets itself get down to the nitty-gritty of zombie busting. All five of the Bennet sisters are skilled combatants who show off their skills throughout the movie. Although some guns are used, most of the fighting is done with swords, axes, and daggers, which is much more exciting than a firefight at ten paces.
Mr. Darcy and Leftenant Wickham are no slouches at fighting, either, so the movie gets fun whenever zombies show up, whether it’s the gals or the dudes who are around to handle things. The fight choreography is meticulously plotted and painstakingly executed, even if the combat is a little slow – think of it as closer to Sucker Punch than to the Kill Bill movies. Nevertheless, no matter at what speed they’re happening, the action sequences are what viewers will want to watch for in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Zombies stopped being frightening a long time ago, and for that reason, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is not going to scare anyone. Sure, the zombies look gruesome, but they’re not enough of a real threat to be scary. There are a handful of attempted jump scares, but nothing that is very shocking or startling. The mere presence of zombies does not a horror film make; the lack of any real scares makes Pride and Prejudice and Zombies more of an action/adventure film than a fright flick.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Burr Steers
- Producer(s): Marc Butan, Sean McKittrick, Brian Oliver, Natalie Portman, Annette Savitch, Allison Shearmur, Tyler Thompson
- Screenwriter(s): Burr Steers (screenplay), Seth Grahame-Smith (novel), Jane Austen (novel)
- Cast: Lily James (Elizabeth Bennet), Lena Headey (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Emma Greenwell (Caroline Bingley), Bella Heathcote (Jane Bennet), Matt Smith (Mr. Collins), Douglas Booth (Mr. Bingley), Aisling Loftus (Charlotte Lucas), Jack Huston (Mr. Wickham), Sam Riley (Mr. Darcy), Charles Dance (Mr. Bennet), Suki Waterhouse (Kitty Bennet), Ellie Bamber (Lydia Bennet)
- Editor(s): Padraic McKinley
- Cinematographer: Remi Adefarasin
- Costume Designer: Julian Day
- Casting Director(s): Des HamiltonJohn Papsidera
- Music Score: Fernando Velázquez
- Country Of Origin: USA