Author Seth Grahame Smith has had quite a fun time mixing up genres and famous icons. His previous work, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” was also adapted into a film even though it was nowhere near as fun. For a while, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was in development hell, going through many different directors and leads such as David O. Russell and Natalie Portman. The project finally went to Burr Steers, who was able to accurately illustrate the novel’s tone. I’m sure the last thing that Jane Austen thought of was putting zombies in her novels, but after this film, you’ll be obsessing over which books should include the famous monsters now.
The film starts out as a typical period piece. Everyone is dressed in fancy clothing, drinking tea and gossiping about one another. General Darcy (Sam Riley) comes in sporting a leather trenchcoat and a raspy voice. He seems to blend into the crowd until a fly passes by and lands on the gentleman across from him. In this world, flies only mean one thing: dead flesh. The man suddenly turns into a zombie, and the mood changes from a pleasant, tranquil scene to full bloody action. In the first five minutes, you find out what this film is going to be like.
The story then shifts focus onto the Bennett family. Like the source material, Mrs. Bennett (Sally Phillips) wants her daughters to get married, but Mr. Bennett (Charles Dance) wants them to focus on training and defending themselves from zombies. The daughters seem girly and bubbly with their heads full of boys and balls (no pun intended). But once they get dressed for a dance, their true nature is shown when we see them putting knives, swords and other weapons into their dresses and garters. That shift is what makes the film enjoyable to begin with. It feels like the kind of B-movie that Mystery Science Theater 3000 would make fun of (and, thankfully, that was the point).
The only daughter who doesn’t care about marriage is Elizabeth (Lily James). She would much rather spend her time fighting and expanding her mind by reading. Now, if you have ever read or watched a Pride and Prejudice adaptation, you know that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy meet and eventually fall in love. She’ll hate him at first, but eventually grow fond of him and get married and live happily ever after. While it may happen similarly to that, the changing of the source material works here particularly well. Instead of falling for her looks, Darcy actually falls in love with Elizabeth’s fighting style and wit. One of their quarrels is a full on fight with chains and knives. It’s a lot more entertaining than dramatically saying, “I love you” in the rain.
The one thing that was the most worrisome was the budget. How big was the film allowed to get with the makeup and set? Production was only $28 million, which is not a lot to get away with. Thankfully, it looked like the filmmakers had a bit of leeway. The zombie makeup was of the same caliber as The Walking Dead and the sets looked grand and royal. Steers did his best to balance both genres in the film, but the zombies quickly took precedence over the original source material.
Surprisingly, the acting was the highlight of the film. Whether it was the main characters or cameos, the roles felt natural. Lily James is fresh off the Disney princess boat and into the zombie killer role as Elizabeth Bennett. She’s sarcastic and witty, spouting off lines like “I would never relinquish my sword for a ring.” Riley played a good Darcy, but their chemistry was never on fire. It was hard to take them seriously at times, especially when Darcy sounded like Van Helsing who smoked five packs a day. The standout role has to go to Matt Smith. His role as Mr. Collins was consistently hilarious and he took over every scene he was in. His awkward personality goes back to his Doctor Who days, but it’s great to see that he’s getting work outside of the Tardis.
It’s hard to make a movie that’s an original adaptation and add zombies to it, but Steers did a good job for the most part. However, the plot has its weak points. The flaws are existent from the very beginning when Steers tries to explain why the plague happened. In the novel, Smith doesn’t ever have a reason why things are; it just gets right to the point. The filmmakers use a good 10 minutes of the opening sequence to explain how the plague came about. Knowing the cause of the disease didn’t add anything to the plot, and it would have been more fun being out of the loop. The other flaws reside in the main villain. The motivation was very confusing and had the audience grasping at straws on what was happening in some parts. They tried to take an original character and give him a different backstory and it felt too forced and awkward. He wasn’t threatening at all. He was just…there.
That being said, you get what you paid for in the movie: blood, guts and some romance. Hopefully, this is James and Riley’s ticket to more roles because they proved that they can kick ass and take names. Even though this most likely won’t be a box office hit, I can see this becoming a cult classic and possibly making its way to fun midnight showings.