Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
By Ben Gruchow
February 11, 2016
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the purest conceptual hook since Snakes on a Plane. The movie delivers flawlessly on its title: we go in expecting to witness pride, prejudice, and zombies, and we get all of those things, in just about the manner we hope to. This kind of literary adaptation is a little old-hat by now in context; Zombies may have been among the first of its type to gain widespread recognition as a novel, but the movie arrives in theaters after multiple revisionist folktales and history lessons have come and gone, some better than others. There’s an unmistakable odor of John Carter-itis about this one, in that the original finally shows up as an adaptation just late enough to add nothing to the conversation.
Divorced from the fact that we got the joke long ago, the concept is still amusing; the movie itself isn’t terrible, although the zombie action scenes are the least-compelling parts of the thing. Shot and cut incomprehensibly, mostly in close-up to hide what I suspect was an inadequate amount of weapons and martial-arts training for the participants, the numerous fight scenes take away from the mild enjoyment of seeing Jane Austen’s novel wrinkled and re-shaped to fit the narrative of a zombie apocalypse.
That re-shaping is done pretty well, under the circumstances; the movie is more loyal to Austen’s source material than the Zombies book is, even if the differences are minor. We still spend most of our time with the Bennet sisters, primarily Elizabeth (Lily James) and Jane (Bella Heathcote), as they navigate the ins and outs of their social class. Bingley and Darcy are present, moving into the neighborhood as foils for both of them; Bingley becomes attracted to Jane, while Darcy and Elizabeth more or less fence around each other with mutual dislike that we know will eventually reverse course. Much of what occurs between these people occurs because of perceptions and miscommunications surrounding class expectations and upbringing; Bingley falls for Jane, yes, but Darcy is a status-conscious individual and the Bennets are not highly-regarded within their class.
These are commonalities shared between just about any iteration of Pride and Prejudice; it makes for interesting conflict. The big difference here is that it all takes place against the backdrop of a militarized and walled-off English countryside during the early stages of a zombie apocalypse. No explanation is given for where the zombies came from, which is fine; the horror of a zombie film (and thus the appeal for its crowd) is mostly in the hopelessness of the scenario, not the plausibility or ingenuity of how it’s set up. Here, it adds spiked little points to the end of a lot of Austen’s standard developments; Darcy is concerned primarily with zombie-killing instead of status here, and the book has him separate Bingley and Jane because of his fear that she is one of the undead (the movie restores much of the character’s motivation from the original novel).
Those developments get a whole lot more heavy-handed as the movie goes on; as the movie enters territory where the zombies begin to reveal their own hidden natures and agendas, and as character motivations get more straightforward and explicit within the context of the apocalypse - I haven’t yet touched on the actual concept of the event itself within the film, nor a surprising revelation at a church - I found myself moderately intrigued while missing the sneakiness and darkly comic edge of the first half, where the tilt was on interpreting Austen’s subtext through its zombified characters, rather than explicitly resolving a storyline about them.