“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”
That’s the opening line of this film and Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name. I read Pride & Prejudice & Zombies when it came out in 2009 and found it pretty hilarious (Mind you, that was around the start of the zombie fad; the movie unfortunately landed a release during zombie fatigue). Grahame-Smith took the public domain content of Jane Austen’s beloved classic and simply added a zombie twist for comedy. But you wouldn’t know that if you only watched the movie.
Like its terrible cousin, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, another Grahame-Smith comedy novel that was made into a film, this movie can’t decide what it wants its genre to be. It tries throwing all of them at the wall in hopes they stick and manages to master none. Rom-com? Action? Horror? Period drama? War drama? The tonal shifts in this movie will give you whiplash.
That’s not to say Pride & Prejudice & Zombies isn’t fun. The physical fight between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy as he declares his love for her is both well-choreographed and funny, as is the training montage between the Bennet sisters. There’s also the zombie headshots that come out of nowhere and make you jump (more so than the zombies themselves). Had this movie focused less on recreating Pride & Prejudice with zombies and more on action-comedy, I think it would’ve fared a lot better.
As for performances, Lily James, who plays classic-heroine-turned-warrior Elizabeth Bennet, fits well with the period piece vibe, which comes as no surprise given her roles in Downton Abbey, War and Peace, and Kenneth Branagh’s live-action Cinderella. But the sword is the extent of James’ refreshed take on Elizabeth Bennet. She’s no different than the countless other actresses who’ve played the beautiful, smart, steely Lizzie. Worse, she occasionally ventures into action movie “Strong Female Character” territory (which is to say she’s little more than fighting skills with great boobs).
Seriously about the boobs for a moment. How many pushup bras were in James’ costumes? Every time she breathed, it was like Helloooooooo, nurse! The person behind the camera was clearly determined to make sure we didn’t forget about her ample bosom either because each shot drew your eyes to BEWBS. Hell, that fight scene I mentioned between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy? He rips open her bodice, and her boobs practically leap out at the audience! We get it! She’s a hot woman with breasts!
Beyond that, most of the characters are forgettable. Sam Riley’s Darcy will only spark a romantic fantasy for people who fantasize about making love to sandpaper. Charles Dance as Mr. Bennet and Sally Phillips as Mrs. Bennet are underutilized. The Bennet sisters are like wall decor with Bella Heathcote’s Jane being the gorgeous painting in the center of the room. Jack Huston’s Mr. Wickham wears way too much foundation. And why in the hell doesn’t Lena Headey’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh get more screentime? She’s the bitchiest, most epic warrior in all of England, yet she only shows up to chew scenery.
That said, Matt Smith’s Mr. Collins is the GREATEST Mr. Collins I’ve ever seen. He somehow takes the obnoxious self-importance of the Bennet’s clergyman cousin to the next level, and he is the saving grace of this movie. If you see Pride & Prejudice & Zombies at all, see it for him. Shit, let’s just make a movie called Mr. Collins vs. Zombies. I’d watch that so hard.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: C
You can listen to my review of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 00:16).