Falling somewhere between a comedy, horror and action flick, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies never quite finds success in any of those genres. Based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith, which in turn was a reimagining of Jane Austen’s novel, Pride offers a mash-up that relies almost solely on its premise, which not only fails to entertain but is one that it never actually has any fun with.
In 19th Century England, five sisters must deal with societal pressures to marry while also fending of the walking dead. Led by their second eldest sister, Elizabeth (Lily James), the girls train in Eastern philosophies and martial arts to become un-dead killing machines. But when eldest sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) is wooed by the wealthy suitor, Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), Elizabeth is left to fend off the advances of three men between fighting the undead: a returned Colonel, Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), the rector Mr Collins (Matt Smith), and a charming soldier Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston). Unsure of her own feelings, she finds that the involvement of her suitors only complicates matters, especially when she becomes caught in a plot by zombies to take the city of London.
Pride actually shares much in common with its predecessor, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), which was also based on a mash-up novel by Grahame-Smith. Both rely single-handedly on the one gimmick, and yet both attempt to flesh this gimmick to feature-length proportions without actually being in on the joke. Pride admittedly comes out on top though, being slightly more entertaining, but there’s an inherent problem in each that links back to a lack of fun in favour of being a more serious venture, which just doesn’t work with such a premise.
The films main flaw seems to lie in the story borrowing the most boring elements of both Austen’s work and zombie fiction. Pride’s zombie are interesting, in that not only can they talk, but they can retain their humanity if they resist feeding on humans. But the film uses them to such little effect that long stretches of the film goes by without even a hint of the undead, and add to this the fact that in this world zombies are commonplace leading no one to ever be even remotely surprised in encountering them, that they ultimately fall flat.
As for use of Austen’s work, it feels much more like a simplified version of the story, which skims over much of the original novels subtleties and complexities in order to focus solely on the romance. There’s also a convoluted attempt to create a zombie mythos, but the juggling act of keeping those balls in the air proves too much to make a reality. There are however some bright moments, especially in attempting to work zombies into Austen’s narrative that points to a certain level of cleverness, as well some fairly fun action sequences that hint at what could have been if only the film was out to have more fun.
The players themselves aren’t too bad. James (Downton Abbey) proves to be quite the adept Elizabeth and does well to anchor what is a fairly uneventful film. Riley’s (Maleficent) Mr. Darcy does fine, and the two have a nice chemistry, although it becomes apparent that it’s offering is much more in line with a sexy-teen Twilight version of Austen’s novel. Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) lends so much-needed gravitas, as does Sally Phillips (Parents) as Mrs. Bennet, although her character sticks much closer to the original source disallowing her to have much zombie fun. Then there’s Smith (Doctor Who) as the humorous Parson Collins, who alone seems to be the only one having fun.
There was probably a point in the last decade when a film with such a novelty like this would have struck a major chord with audiences seeking their next zombie fix, but in a media landscape now overrun, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies doesn’t have the power or creativity to stand out.