VOD film review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Execution of concept7
Final act floundering3
Bonnets and brawling5
Nathanael Smith | On 05, Jul 2016
Director: Burr Steers
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston
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It is generally good practice to avoid watching films where the whole concept of the plot is summed up entirely in the title. Films such as Snakes on a Plane and Man on a Ledge are memorable solely for their name and the flimsiness of their central conceit is laid bare by the shoddiness of the film making. So it was with a certain amount of apprehension that audiences greeted Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Much like Homer’s barbershop quartet, The Be Sharps, the name seems witty at first but seems less funny each time you hear it. It is, therefore, a pleasant surprise to discover that this latest twist on Austen is not quite the irredeemable mess that the title might suggest.
Anyone seeking a plot synopsis need look no further. Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name, the story follows the same structure as Jane Austen’s beloved, much-adapted story. So there is the dastardly Wickham, the surly Darcy and the buffoonish Collins – here played with scene-stealing glee by Matt Smith. The twist, if it isn’t obvious, is that all of the romance is happening against a backdrop of a zombie infestation. The Bennett sisters are now highly trained fighters and Darcy is a zombie-hunter.
The blend of the two genres actually isn’t as dumb as it initially sounds and, for the majority of the film, it’s a lot of fun seeing how they mix up the genres. Darcy’s sour-faced arrogance is translated into an anti-zombie focus so intense it comes at the cost of human interaction; Lizzie is worried that marriage would mean sacrificing her zombie-fighting prowess. Their skills at fighting mean that when the two of them have an argument, they actually brawl instead of battling with wits. It’s a neat idea, executed well and it does manage to bring something fairly fresh to a story we’ve seen a hundred times before.
The film is at its best as an Austen adaptation, as the familiar characters wrestle with how social mores fit in with a post-apocalyptic Regency Britain. Look carefully and you may even see the slightest shades of class commentary as the screenplay hints at only the rich being able to fend off the coming plagues. The film is formally dull – you will struggle to remember a single memorable composition or snappy edit – but kept at a rapid enough pace that you barely stop to contemplate how stupid this all is. For the first two acts, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies manages, just about, to transcend the monumental dumbness of its title and actually tell an entertaining story.
Then, alas, the third act hits. The zombies start to take centre stage and the snappy world-building of the first two-thirds falls apart under a disappointingly half-hearted attempt at a big finale. The action until this point is fun, but over-edited and not nearly gory enough – you always get the sense that there is a gap between budget and ambition. In the finale, that gap becomes a chasm in a thoroughly underwhelming sequence where the zombies chase people, but very little fighting happens. The “best swordswoman in the country”, played by Lena Headey, is given absolutely nothing to do and the big bad plot basically amounts to zombies running over a hill before a small explosion happens. The very last shot is such a monumentally stupid cop-out that it almost undoes all the film’s good work.
At a time when Whit Stillman’s phenomenal Austen adaptation Love and Friendship is so effortlessly rejuvenating the period drama, something as muddled as this feels like a forgettable addition for Austenophiles, as opposed to an essential part of the cinematic canon. Go and watch that and, if you still want a fresh take on the author, you’ll glean a fair amount of enjoyment from this.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.