Film

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Is Much Better Than We Expected

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I know what you're thinking, but... it's actually pretty good.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is based on a novel of the same name by Seth Grahame­-Smith. The title says nearly everything you need to know -- ­­ just take Jane Austen's original novel and replace the French army abroad with a zombie infestation at home. The film is pleasantly more clever than what I remember of Grahame­-Smith's work and arguably more attentive to Austen's social commentary than some of the other fanciful adaptations. (See: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a cute but somewhat shallow web series, and the Marvel comics version that should never have existed).

What makes it fun is the collision between zombie apocalypse and Victorian snobbery. Grammar school becomes Shaolin warrior training, sisterly spats become rafter­shaking spars and Victorian women embroidering become Victorian women cleaning rifles. Garters contain blades; leather-accented dresses deflect zombie bites. Mrs. Bennet harangues her children about marriage as they attempt to defend their home from the undead instead of doing haranguing them about marriage at another ball.

That isn't to say that the beloved romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy doesn't have a place in the film. Thanks to an excellent performance from Lily James (of Cinderella) as Elizabeth and an unorthodox Darcy from Sam Riley (of On the Road and Control), the love story remains a central and recognizable fixture. Here Elizabeth and Darcy are as much a match on the battlefield as in wits. Locked eyes at a ball turn into locked blades; after a false start, they grudgingly fall in love with each other.

(Annabelle (Jess Radomska) has grandfather for tea. - (C) 2015 CTMG, INC.
  • (c) 2015 CTMG, Inc.
  • (Annabelle (Jess Radomska) has grandfather for tea.

Much of the dialogue from Austen's novel remains among the fighting and comments about zombies. For instance: Elizabeth's rejection of Darcy's first proposal retains near-­original dialogue; it just also turns into a furniture-­breaking, button­-popping martial arts fight.

The sound editing adds nice flair ­­-- crushed bugs crunch, fingernail swipes sound like katana slashes, and one zombie squelches nastily under the hooves of a horse. The leather accents added to otherwise period­accurate dresses are accompanied by some impressive swooshes.

The supporting characters are impressive as well. Matt Smith (Doctor Who) plays Mr. William Collins with delightfully self­-absorbed, bumbling pizzazz and dopey facial expressions. Lena Headey (300, The Purge) plays the infamous one­-eyed­ zombie­ slayer Lady Catherine de Bourgh (who at one point attempts to off Elizabeth, instead of just warning her away from Darcy as she does in Austen's version). Headey's Game of Thrones co­star Charles Dance also pops in as Mr. Bennet.

While it's far from a perfect film, it is also far from a drag. The tone falters in its transitions from violence to romance at times, and the villain's schemes feel undeveloped and unrealized in the final act. It's a miracle it got made at all, considering it lost at least three directors before screenwriter Burr Steers took the role and finished the project. But since it does follow Austen's novel beat for beat, it has a solid platform to build on.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies provides minor amounts of horror, a lot of deadpan silliness, some well constructed action sequences, a crisply­-edited world of sound and a fresh version of the Austenian love story that spawned a horde of retellings. At the very least, it's more than you were expecting; at its best, it is something a little wonderful.

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