Heading into Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I confess I was uncertain what to expect having never suffered the Jane Austin novel in high school (or long after) nor had I dove into the fantasy driven parody by Seth Grahame-Smith mixing zombies with Regency era English romance. On top of my “romance novel” trepidation, the film itself is rated PG-13.
A PG-13 zombie film. Oh, my.
My initial concerns continue. Tack on a troubled and lengthy production and mixed reactions to the trailers and promotional materials combined with mixed results from a similar Grahame-Smith adaptation Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, I walk in struggling to remain optimistic. Now, having seen the film, my struggles turn to having to face my fellow Grue-crew on the Horror News Radio podcast defending how much I enjoyed this film. Winning me over almost instantly with a prologue sequence introducing Mr. Darcy, Zombie Hunter (Sam Riley) and an entertaining and amusing animated credits sequence, Pride and Prejudice and Zombie is a lightweight, silly, fun – and romantic – monster romp with its fair share of gruesome zombie shocks and butt-kicking action sequences. Director Burr Steers crafts the proceedings brisk and lively keeping audiences entertained despite the story getting lost in its own silliness. The film may stumble from time to time but it always manages to find its footing. Yeah, I like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – don’t judge me.
Infusing zombie lore into the classic Jane Austin classic tale, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies cast the Bennet daughters as a well-trained pack of zombie fighters. “My daughters are trained for battle, sir. Not the kitchen” warns Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) to Parson Collins (Matt Smith) who eyes his daughters for marriage, first the “pretty one” Jane (Bella Heathcote) then Elizabeth (Lily James) when he learns she is “promised” to Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth). Elizabeth wants nothing to do with Parson Collins reluctantly preferring the arrogant Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) often preferring to stab, hit and kick him instead of more romantic notions. Ah, kids these days. Spicing up the mix is the zombie apocalypse. The black plague spreads across the land infecting its victim with the hunger for brains. Once they taste human brains, they turn into full-on zombies attacking and feasting upon unlucky unfortunate Londoners. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy discover a sinister zombie plot hidden in the In-Between that threatens London and everyone they hold dear.
Much of the reason Pride and Prejudice and Zombies works is the confrontational chemistry between leads Lily James and Sam Riley. James is no stranger to period drama known for her turn as Lady Rose Aldridge in Downton Abbey. Armed with a sword and stubborn frown, she is ferocious heading off zombie attacks, romantic entanglements and Lena Headley as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She quickly wins over the audience as her sister Jane continually gets all the attention and compliments. Despite her own stunning looks, she is able to come across as the underdog. Riley begins the film with an overly stiff and bland approach but slowly cracks through the role to make for a winning lead. His face is permanently plastered with a furrowed brow and a pouting grimace. Elizabeth and Darcy are made for each other. By the time they confront each other over a rather awkward and miscalculated proposal their union was inevitable. For the romance part of the story this is key to its success; fortunately this is also key to making many of the zombie sequences work as well – at least in respect to rooting for the heroes. Many of the elements that surround them do not land on their feet quite as succinctly.
For the most part, the PG-13 zombies work in context of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The rating prohibits the gut munching effects and expectations of most zombie films which often results in watered-down, weaker versions of the undead creatures. While blood, guts and gore are held to a minimum for much of the film, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies occasionally rises to the occasion surprising its audience with an exploding head or a close up of zombies eating brains – usually for shock value or a well-earned laugh. The zombie make-up delivers some memorable designs from a replication of the novelization cover creation to a zombified mother carrying her zombie child to deteriorating Mrs. Featherstone. The film is more hindered by CGI blood than it is from its approach to the zombies, their make-up and their demise. They can even become rather haunting such as when Mrs. Bennet comments “They lost the orphanage” as they pass a pack of zombie children roaming in the woods.
What makes Pride and Prejudice and Zombies work more often than not is its tone and humor. The film does not take itself as serious as Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter took itself in 2012. Director Burr Steers knows that the whole affair is campy and silly embracing the absurdity of all but without getting too ludicrous. It is a delicate balance, one Steers navigates successfully throughout the film. Steers strikes an entertaining harmony between the romantic interludes, the Jane Austin Regency Era conflicts and the impending doom and threat of the living dead. He handles key sequences for their maximum effect. The clash between Elizabeth and Darcy and they trade insults and blows is a highlight. He also handle the larger scale battle well as zombies attack the walls or race across the country side. Even a simple – but amusing – conversation at the dinner table between the entire Bennet family and Parson Collins is handle with flair.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a delightful zombie film more akin to Warm Bodies than most zombie films and is also far more refreshing than recent standard zombie offering. It mixes humor and romance with the gore and horror as it should given its source material. Director Burr Steers balances the extremes between English romance and zombie horror film with mixed but overall successful results crafting a film with a specific audience in mind. It hits that mark and then some. The zombie make-up is competent appropriate for PG-13 audience but just gruesome enough to satisfy most horror fans. While lacking in blood and guts, the zombie action still has a few graphic tricks to display and delight. The film is well acted with Lily James and Sam Riley standing out as the leads. Bella Heathcote and Douglas Booth make for an attractive, perhaps too attractive, pair each getting their chance to shine and entertain. Jack Huston realizes a winning George Wickham until he is reduced to an overly complicated plot device. Lena Headey has fun as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in an extended cameo while her Game of Thrones co-star Charles Dance does the same as the Bennet patriarch. While not for most hardcore zombie fans, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a satisfying, amusing and entertaining matinee flick that successfully whisks away its audience into a romantic and thrilling horror tale for 108 minutes.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (3.8 / 5)