Seven years ago Seth Grahame-Smith (co-)wrote a quirky novel with a fun name. When Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hit shelves, it was a runaway bestseller, and why not? Everyone read Jane Austen’s classic in high school, so the story was familiar, and then there was the whole zombie thing. Remember in the mid 2000s when zombies were all the rage?
There’s a chance that had the movie been made at least within shouting distance of the book’s arrival that it might have had a chance, but even then the single joke would have probably gotten tired– just as it did after three or four chapters in the novel.
As it is the movie lands in a pop culture world where The Walking Dead is the only remnant of the zombie-centric world in which we used to live. And as fun as PPZ (as the social media savvy call it) seems for the first ten minutes or so, the zombie-meets-corsets idea gets old quickly.
Lily James (Cinderella) stars as Lizzie, the 2nd eldest daughter in the Bennett clan. Her mother (Sally Phillips) is eager to pawn her and her four sisters off on the nearest (wealthy) eligible bachelor, but the pesky zombie infestation is keeping everyone on edge. London now has a huge wall and a moat around it, and everywhere people turn, it seems, the undead are there.
Enter Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley), an egregiously wealthy and dashing young man with a penchant for dispatching zombies. As Austen fans know, he’s the “pride” in the equation, and that immediately makes him wholly undesirable to young Lizzie. Good thing, actually– she has no time for courting; when she’s not doing hearthside needlepoint, she’s sharpening her Shaolin training and sliding stiletto knives under her garter.
Director Burr Steers (who also wrote the screenplay) does what he can with the one-note joke–sure it’s fun at first to see James spouting Austen’s words while simultaneously lopping off zombie noggins–but it wears thin after not-too-long. And as for the zombies, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to them. Some are ravenous, some are polite, and some prefer pig brains to people. Without any hard and fast rules, the movie crumbles.
Give credit to James and Riley– they make do the best they can, bringing some life to the undead proceedings. And Matt Smith darn-near steals the movie out from underneath everyone as the foppish Parson Collins. But none of it is enough to save PPZ from its own gimmick.
Off with its head.