Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Zombie Violence and Action, and brief Suggestive Material
Directed by: Burr Steers
Written by: Burr Steers
(based on the novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith)
Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance & Lena Headey
Jane Austen’s acclaimed classic gets an undead, ass-kicking twist in this straight-faced spoof. Based on a parody novel in which Seth Grahame-Smith inserted zombies and martial arts into a beloved romance, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES might be the perfect date movie of 2016. There are zombies and combat scenes for the guys, and a comedy of manners and old-fashioned romance for the gals. This is all executed in a stylish way that kept my eyes glued to the screen from start to finish. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is the kind of film that you simply have to see in order to believe that it actually exists.
A zombie apocalypse has broken loose in pre-Victorian England. Families now live in fortified homes and train their children in the ways of the orient (Chinese and Japanese fighting styles). Little matters like hordes of flesh-eating monsters and daily bloodshed won’t keep wealthy families from trying to marry off their children though. Elizabeth Bennet is a cynical young woman who doesn’t believe in love until she meets the inscrutable Colonel Darcy. While her four other sisters find love in various places, the sword-wielding Elizabeth is given a variety of suitors and begins to develop a complicated relationship with the zombie-slaying Darcy. All of this is set to the backdrop of a humans vs. zombies war raging in London.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES gets credit where credit is due in being (mostly) faithful to the original Austen novel…just with added explosions, fights, and brain-eating ghouls thrown into the mix. One can’t help but admire how seriously this film takes itself as even the silliest moments are played out with a straight face. Director/writer Burr Steers manages to execute his zombie-filled version of Austen’s classic in a stylish manner that makes the film entertaining to watch the whole way through, even in the zombie-free scenes. A prologue near the beginning is pulled off in a ridiculous, yet very cool, way that made me realize that I was in for quite a ride.
The self-serious (and equally hilarious) tone of ZOMBIES is aided by the performances of a talented cast. Lily James takes a break from her family-friendly and typically British fare to kick ass and fall in love as Elizabeth. This zombie-slaying version of the literary character rightfully seems up to snuff in her distinctly Austen sophisticated manner, but also joins the ever-growing list of strong female heroines in recent years. Sam Riley is equally entertaining as the sullen, but likable Darcy. Darcy’s introduction is a stand-out moment and he remains a compelling character as both a romantic interest and professional zombie killer. Elizabeth’s sisters receive substantially less screen time (after all, this movie could only be so long), but Bella Heathcote is great in her own romantic subplot as Jane.
Two GAME OF THRONES alumni pop up in brief side roles. Charles Dance is occasionally glimpsed as the Bennet sisters’ good-humored father, while Lena Headey is appropriately intimidating as the one-eyed Lady Catherine. Jack Huston is great as the mysterious Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth’s rival love interest with unique theories about how to end the zombie apocalypse. Meanwhile, Matt Smith’s Mr. Collins is easily the funniest part of the entire film. His comedic timing and quirky line delivery are pitch perfect.
Though it’s only rated PG-13, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES gets away with a lot. All of the fight and combat scenes are impressively choreographed. The deceptive teenage-oriented rating still allows room for exploding zombie heads, severed limbs, and other bits of gore. The make-up work on these zombies ranges from creepy to over-the-top (in a good way). Aside from the onslaught of sword-fighting, martial arts, and undead corpses, Austen fans will be glad to hear that the film remains a romance through and through. Lines of dialogue have been tailored to include words like: zombies, undead, arts of the orient, and combat. However, they don’t feel as out-of-place as you might think they would be.
My only complaint (and it’s a noticeable one) with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is that the screenplay includes vague bits of a subplot involving the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse that seems entirely useless to the film as a whole. The only reason that I can think of for its inclusion was to set up for possible sequels (which is also evidenced by a mid-credits scene). This is my sole gripe with an otherwise surprisingly solid film. This zombified take on PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is entertaining as hell and all the better for it. Austen’s beloved romance remains fully intact and we still get to see zombies being slain by classic literary characters. What more could you want from a movie like this?