“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (2016) is a fun enough horror-comedy — maybe not quite as good as it could be, considering all of its excellent ingredients, yet still better than most new zombie movies out there. I’d give it a 7 out of 10.
It’s a great genre mashup, and I don’t just mean combining Jane Austen’s 1813 classic book with horror’s most grisly sub-genre. (This is a film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 eponymous satirical novel.) It’s also a detailed and thoughtfully constructed horror-fantasy. (That opening credits’ alternate-history lesson was a nice touch.) Then it tries, with less success, to be a serviceable romance and a mystery.
The film has a lot going for it: a fun concept, good actors, mostly competent direction, and a creative team that obviously had a hell of a lot of fun with the source material. Science fiction fans should have fun spotting Matt Smith, Lena Headey and Charles Dance. The movie has outstanding sets, costumes and filming locations — this was shot on location at historic mansions throughout England. The fight choreography was decent enough, even if it was occasionally a little hard to follow. Finally, the zombies that we get to see are indeed creepy — they’re not Romero-type zombies, but the livelier, chattier, brain-eating, sentient baddies similar to those of John Russo’s “Return of the Living Dead” films. The makeup and digital effects for the monsters are pretty damn good.
Considering its unique idea, its zaniness and its high production values, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” could have been an instant cult favorite. But it still falls short of greatness with two flaws that I couldn’t ignore.
The first is its seeming reliance on a single joke — the juxtaposition of Austen’s proper ladies as badass, feminist heroines in a crazy, Kung-fu, blood-and-guts zombie war. I believe that’s funny and tickles the viewer for maybe 20 minutes. But it isn’t enough to sustain the humor for the length of a feature film. It’s fun, but badass, wise-cracking warrior women have been a common trope in mainstream horror film and television for a long time. Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” came to TV 19 years ago, for example; the film that inspired it was five years earlier.
Second, for a film with “zombies” in its title, the monsters are a little sparse. I’m guessing the script closely followed the 2009 book, which I have not read … but this isn’t the actioner that horror fans might be hoping for. (And why not? The film falls under so many other categories.) The movie could have been better if there had been less banter and situational humor, and more zombie fighting. Its establishing shots and sweeping vistas were downright beautiful … I kept waiting for a major land engagement that would knock my socks off. But … there isn’t really a final battle, and the story disappoints a little with its anti-climax. The action sequence that we are presented with is cool, and well executed, but the large-scale period battles you’re probably hoping for occur almost entirely off screen.
Oh — one final quibble … who exactly were the Four Horsemen, outside their allegorical context? And what happened to them? They were nice and unsettling — one of the movie’s few scary moments occurs when we wonder whether they’ve spotted a protagonist. Were scenes cut from this movie that would have explained their role in the story?