In a world where the internet plagues us with mash-ups, weird Tumblr posts, and fan fictions galore, there somewhere resides a bestselling novel – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This is a book that asks the important question – What if Jane Austen’s classic characters did in fact fight zombies while battling the struggle within their hearts? Well, this book – and now movie – are here to answer those questions. The results? Well, they are interesting to say the least.
I’ll be honest in that I have never read the book in which this film is based – I have, however, read the actual book that started it all and seen all of its cinematic versions thus far. So, even though I might not be an expert on Zombie Fighting Elizabeth, I do know the character of Ms. Bennett pretty well. So, with that in mind, let me splatter (pun intended?) my feelings on this film as best I can.
From the get go, Zombies looks like a much more “indie” adaptation of Austen’s classic than any other version has. It is dirty to the touch, and if one were to make the confusion that this was based on an Emily Bronte novel rather than an Austen story, I wouldn’t be in the least bit shocked. Blood, creepy coffins, and eye patch wearing rich ladies fill this world with beautifully constructed shots by cinematographer Remi Adefarasin – well, mostly.
You see, Zombies biggest struggle is that its director, Burr Steers, clearly doesn’t grasp how to mold the two genres this film is attempting to cater to. On the one hand, this movie has to appeal to the Victorian Romance crowd, which ultimately it does, even in its most generic form. And on the other, this has to make a case to the Action/Horror loving movie goers, that this can stand shoulder to shoulder with Zombie classics old and new. And though Steers obviously feels comfortable making the typical ho-hum BBC mini-drama, but when it comes to the kick butt supernatural flick that it would like to be, he has no clue what he is doing. No tight shots, awkward slow edits, and the worst lighting humanly possible – all of Steers’ choices bring down the rest of his crew’s talents to the lowest of lows. But am I really surprised considering this is coming from the guy that gave us 17 Again? No, not at all.
This movie also seems to lack the overall confidence to understand how good a concept it has and just doesn’t know how to go forward with it. A perfect example of this is how in this version of England, children are trained to fight the undead in either Japan or China. There seems to be an attempt of a social commentary, where the richer characters train in the Great Nippon, while those who train in anything related to the Chinese are looked down upon. This would have been a really interesting thing for the film to – I don’t know – develop, but it keeps getting mentioned as an afterthought, to the point where you wonder what is even the point of bringing it up at all? (INSERT SHRUG HERE)
But Zombies thankfully has a trick up its sleeve, and that is its cast, who save what could have been a complete and utter disaster of a movie into something actually special. Lily James as Elizabeth proves that she is, without a doubt, a great actress. She is so utterly charming, yet powerful and strong, that she even sells the worst of the action scenes and makes them, at the very least, interesting. Mr. Darcy himself, Sam Riley, is exactly what the character requires – a quirky look, death glares, and a sense of romance. Unfortunately, these two, though great on their own, don’t have much chemistry, which is more an issue with their director/casting than themselves as actors.
Yet you’d be happy to know, especially for you Doctor Who fans out there, that the stand out here is really Matt Smith. Taking one of the more thankless roles in the story, Smith makes Mr. Collins the kind of comic relief this movie – with all its low rate special effects and misdirected fight scenes – needed. If there was a way to have a Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh spin off, I would throw all my money at it.
At the end of the day, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is one of those rare movies that doesn’t know how to handle itself in its own brilliance. There is a lot of good, but they can’t seem to put a manageable leash on it. Maybe one day this movie can get the proper remake, with an actual genre director, that it deserves, and then I’ll get why this book sold so many copies in the first place. As Austen herself wrote, “I have not the pleasure of understanding you.” – well said Jane, well said.