Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate and Screen Gems
Directed by Burr Steers
As much as camp and shtick have grown in popularity in the last decade (coinciding with the rise of the internet as a daily tool for the masses), it’s still not something that’s easily recreated and more often than not happened by accident. That’s why films like this one annoy me right off the bat. You can spend a million dollars trying to recreate a Big Mac perfectly, but that time would have been better spent making something good. The flashy visuals, confident swagger, and knowing winks to the audience tend to makers of a terrible film covering up its faults than a genuine fun throwback to exploitation films of yore. Still, that’s just the vibe I’m getting from the trailers and trailers have a tendency to be misleading; just look at the ones for Hail Caesar. Can this movie succeed at being fun trash, or will it be the cinematic equivalent of dumpster diving? Let’s find out!!
The movie essentially follows the story of Pride and Prejudice, in that it follows Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) on her journey about navigating the British upper class, the relationship she eventually forges with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), and the choices her sisters make that affect her family. It starts with her sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) and Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) falling in love during a party at the Bingley estate where Elizabeth first meets Mr. Darcy and immediately finds him to be an unpleasant and haughty ass. Over a series of weeks and months, things only become more strained as they run into each other quite often due to Mr. Darcy’s friendship with Mr. Bingley as he and Jane continue their courtship. Oh, and this all takes place after the zombie apocalypse where all of Britain (though I have no idea if this has spread to the rest of the world) is under threat from the undead masses. Their numbers grow so large that they basically make that city from Attack on Titan, i.e. they big a giant wall to keep everything else out. Despite the protection afforded to them by their isolation, the threat of the outside world constantly looms and the entire Bennet family has been trained in some form of martial arts, as has Mr. Darcy and I believe Mr. Bingley. I think the idea is that EVERYONE in the upper class knows how to fight, but we never really see that many people clash with the zombies and instead just run away. None of this though seems to have much impact on the story at hand which is about Elizabeth constantly fighting against the wishes of her mother to settle down with whatever lout with have her, including her own cousin Mr. Collins (Matt Smith) and her steadfast refusal to agree to marriage for anything less than love. Will she and Mr. Darcy eventually find out that they’re perfect for each other… for some reason? Will they be able to stop the zombies from getting any closer to wiping out all of Britain? Couldn’t we have just ended this shtick with the one about Lincoln?
This movie TRIES more than I would have expected, but it’s still an obnoxious mess that doesn’t live up to its outlandish premise. I honestly don’t know WHAT the point of this movie is, as it fails to be either a Pride and Prejudice adaptation or a zombie flick, and it DEFINITELY fails at combining the two in a novel and interesting way. We get that mixing these two genres (an eighteenth century romance novel and an exploitation zombie flick) is inherently anachronistic and that can be funny for a little while, but the movie has no interest in taking it beyond that very simple and shallow joke.
Let’s start by looking at it as a Pride and Prejudice adaptation. I’ve never read that book (I read Jane Eyre. SHUT UP!) but it’s not hard to pick out which parts are actually from the original text. It’s not TOO complex of a story, at least as far as this movie cares to interpret it. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy hate each other guts, but they eventually find out they’re perfect for each other after some misunderstandings and personal failings are cleared up. The way the movie plays out though, I get the suspicion that the filmmakers had very little regard for the material, what with how they constantly play up the fact that this dialogue is being said while characters are trying to beat the shit out of each other, or how scenes are interrupted constantly by stuff the movie thinks is WAY cooler. I mean I can’t say an ACTUAL adaptation would be all that interesting to me, but then why mash up that story with zombies if the ones presenting this story to us don’t appreciate it? I guess it’s just because the original book is so iconic and ingrained in popular culture, but if that was the case then it only becomes more blatant how shallow the whole enterprise is.
How about looking at this as an over the top zombie flick? Now this is actually where I think the movie succeeds a bit better than I was expecting, but it’s by no means great. In fact, certain aspects are barely competent. There’s a great idea here about how Eastern fighting styles became popular after the outbreak of zombies with the upper class going to Japan and the lower class going to China. Elizabeth and her sisters are Shaolin Masters while Mr. Darcy is a straight up Samurai… and now that I say that out loud it sounds pretty dumb. We’ll get into plot holes and inconsistencies later, but it at least gives the movie an excuse to have their characters fight competently against the undead hoards which leads to some impressive set pieces here and there. There are some issues here and there, such as this one scene where Elizabeth’s sisters are literally doing nothing while in Zack Snyder slo-mo (I think one of them pokes a zombie with a butter knife or something) and the oh so omnipresent shaky cam for action sequences, but the action works well enough for a movie like this that’s pretty much a spoof of both period pieces and zombie exploitation. However, the story they have about the zombies (what they fill in between the Pride and Prejudice adaptation with the occasional zombie fight scene) is a jumbled wreck of half-baked ideas and predictable character beats. I didn’t HAVE to read the damn book to know that Mr. Darcy was the misunderstood good guy and the Mr. Whickham was the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but where they take the latter is straight up bonkers and downright confusing. There’s a subplot involving zombies who have managed to maintain their humanity by maintaining a strict view of morality through their own church and by subsisting on pig brains instead of human brains. It’s a weird place for the movie to go however considering that the biggest advocate of peace and a truce is Mr. Whickham who we KNOW is the bad guy because of cliché storytelling conventions, and yet there is zero indication of sinister intent on the part of the reformed (or I guess non-regressive) zombies. Hell, even AFTER Whickham plays his hand, it’s actually never established that these reformed zombies are in any way complicit in his actions, and frankly are completely victimized by Mr. Darcy in a way I won’t spoil here. It feels like the movie TRYING to have a level of depth to it that it has business even attempting and utterly fails at doing so.
Since we’re headed in that direction anyway, the worst aspect of this movie is just how poorly they meld these two anachronistic ideas together which leads to the movie not having a cohesive narrative to follow. Since Pride and Prejudice did not take place in a zombie apocalypse, the characters don’t ACT like they’re in a zombie apocalypse, so when the movie is pulling lines and scenes directly from the source material, it makes no sense for these characters to be making those decisions in this world that has been established as being incredibly dangerous. It makes no sense for Jane to go ALONE to visit Mr. Bingley when there are zombies roaming the woods, and the only reason that’s in the movie is because that’s how it played out in the book. Despite all the rich people having trained in Japan (and the slightly less people training in China) it has zero bearing on their personality or character which is still rooted in British Aristocracy as it was in the book. Maybe if I had read the book I would be snickering at the absurdity a bit more, but then I’m also sure fans of the books wouldn’t appreciate this half-assed reworking of the material.
Despite my annoyance with this movie, it isn’t completely awful. The aforementioned fight sequences are good enough for this kind of movie, and I did find at least some of the characters interesting. Lilly James as Elizabeth Bennet is easily the best part of the movie and honestly lends the film a bit of feminist credit. She doesn’t let others dictate her life, but she also has to suffer consequences and emotional anguish for disobeying her family and the customs of the world she lives in. Despite the adversity though, she manages to reach her goals through sheer perseverance and even has priorities other than eventually getting with Mr. Darcy, as Whitlock kidnaps one her sisters towards the end (in the book, the two of them eloped). Everyone else in the cast though is not up to her level with Sam Riley doing this ridiculous Batman growl for Mr. Darcy, Jack Huston infusing no subtlety into Mr. Wickham’s character, and Matt Smith being a fucking idiot. I guess it works for the character he’s playing, but I honestly would cast the guy in anything based on his lackluster performance here as a mincing fop.
A story like this could have worked in a sketch where the absurdity can carry the joke for that relatively short length (I’m reminded of the Robot Chicken bit where they made a 300 parody out of the American Revolution which had the added benefit of satirizing the supposed true story claims of that film) but there is not enough here to carry a feature film length. If they had been a bit more sincere in their approach to the source material or more biting and over the top with the outlandish nature of the premise, then it MIGHT have had enough going for it to justify its length, but as it stands it’s a dumb joke that occasionally works but not enough to save this from being a neigh unwatchable mess. There are more wacky action films on the horizon such as Deadpool, Ghostbusters, and even Central Intelligence; all of which I feel have a damn good shot at being better than this lifeless husk of mash up. I might recommend checking it out after it gets a home release, but only if you’re sure that this kind of out there premise is up your alley, though I’m sure it’s a lesser version of whatever you’re hoping it will be.
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