It’s not a good start when you sit down for a film and you’re not quite sure who the intended audience is. The final third of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’ title could possibly scare off period drama lovers, while the first two parts probably aren’t the most alluring prospect to hardened horror fans. The end product? It won’t be either camp’s new favourite film, but it does have its moments.
Surprisingly, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies functions better as a Jane Austen adaptation than a slice of scary cinema. Lily James plays Elizabeth Bennet with an air of fierce charisma throughout, and her main plotline – the battle for her hand in marriage, as per the source material – captures the attention for the most part.
I was just as engaged in this matrimonial melodrama as I was with last year’s notably flesh-eater-free Far From The Madding Crowd adaptation, which is a fair achievement. It’s just a shame that the meant-to-be-frightful fare doesn’t blend in with this too well.
If you thought World War Z pushed the traditional conventions of zombie behaviour too far, you’ll be truly riled by Pride & Prejudice & Zombies’s approach. Not only do these zombies run, but they’re also capable of talking and retaining huge amounts of humanity if they resist the urge to eat human brains. This feels odd throughout, particularly when Elizabeth tries to have a conversation with a zombie that she used to know, only for someone else to shoot its head off. Bizarre.
Director Burr Steers does find an eye-catching way to fill us in about the newly-added contextual details of the zombie apocalypse (which has only left a tiny walled-off middle section of England untouched), though, repurposing his opening credits sequence as a hand-drawn pop-up-book of bloody backstory, narrated by the ever-ominous tones of Charles Dance. This is visually arresting, as well as serving its purpose. It’s actually one of the best bits of the film.
The scene directly before this, where Sam Riley’s Colonel (not just Mr) Darcy arrives to a high society gathering, beheads an incognito zombie and punts his head across the room, is also rather fun. Before the initial shock subsides, it must be said that there are some chuckles to be had at the basic idea of the undead infiltrating period fiction.
The problem is, that once you’ve seen one of the Bennet girls (all of whom have now had some serious warrior training) bludgeon a zombie, you then sit through rehashes off the same idea. And, since the film fights hard to stay within the constraints of its 15 rating, the gore doesn’t increase at all over the film’s long-seeming 108-minute running time.
You don’t get the imaginative zombie kills of Shaun Of The Dead here; you tend to just see them get whacked and then falling over. The film actually works better when the zombies aren’t in it, especially with Elizabeth’s new samurai-esque skillset meaning that her fallings-out with Darcy are no longer just verbal. One of the movie’s best scenes is when they come to blows in a zombie-free third act confrontation, which is rather telling of how underwhelming the gore-lite zombie battles become.
Steadily stealing the show along the way is Matt Smith. While the rest of the film tries to imagine what Pride & Prejudice would look like as an American horror/action hybrid, Smith’s Collins keeps one foot firmly in British humour at all times. He feels like he’d be more at home in Carry On Up The Zombie Apocalypse – asking for more scones at inopportune moments and taking a huge pratfall in a very serious scene – which is a welcome change of pace to the action that dominates the film.
All in all, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies isn’t great. It feels overlong, the reimagining of zombie lore feels unnecessarily complicated, and there are approximately 17 too many gore-free zombie battles. Matt Smith’s comedy will keep you entertained, though, as will Lily James’ fierce central performance. It’s worth a watch, but never has quite as much fun as its title suggests it might.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is in UK cinemas from 11th February.
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