It doesn't take too much imagination to put something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies together . Not the way this movie does it. The movie doesn't really do much more than add scenes of zombie slaying to the Austen classic. It doesn't really attempt to capitalize on the potential of the genre mashup, the movie as a whole content with the lazy comedy inherent in seeing Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters wielding weapons against hordes of the undead. What's even sadder is that the movie doesn't even do that well. The film just fails to deliver on every front.
The plot follows the outline of Austen novel quite closely. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) is the most independent of her sisters, but just like them she is expected to marry well. She encounters Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) at a ball, and though there is an attraction between them, they find each other quite disagreeable. The movie still tells the story of their relationship, but it's now set in a version of England besieged by the terror of a zombie plague. Opening G narration explains the lay of the land, which has London fortified behind walls and a moat, and families sending their children to the Far East to train in martial arts.
The best bits of the movie turn the verbal sparring of the characters into literal sparring. There is some merit to the basic idea of translating the social dynamics of these arguments into punches and kicks, the movie finding some novelty in bringing the novel's themes of class of propriety into the realm of the physical. But that's where the appeal of the movie ends. There isn't much more to this movie than its title. Once you get past the initial humor of the concept, there just isn't anything left.
It really is just a shortened version of the Austen novel with zombies thrown in. It basically dumbs down the classic, obscuring the themes as it runs its one joke to the ground. This wouldn't be so bad if the zombie element actually added anything at all to this story. But the story doesn't find anything interesting ways to integrate this new threat into the themes. Some of the classic philosophical conflicts that come with the monsters are brought up, but the movie isn't smart enough to follow through on them. It just treats them as an extra nuisance, their existence contributing little to the overall picture.
And it isn't even fun. The movie doesn't do enough with the genre addition to make it worth it. The zombie combat is tame and listless. The monsters are never really shown to be much of a threat, and so the movie isn't scary at all. The filmmaking doesn't offer much in terms of visual wit, the direction failing to take advantage of the incongruous elements provided by the main conceit. The film's cast is likely its best asset. Lily James makes for a fine Elizabeth Bennet, and Sam Riley's extra misanthropic Mr. Darcy is fun to watch. And Matt Smith practically runs away with the movie as Parson Collins, the actor fully committing to the silliness of the role.
It just feels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ought to be more fun than it is. It would have likely been too much to ask that the mashup do something profound for the story, but it is reasonable to demand that this concoction result in some thrills. Or maybe laughs, if nothing else. But it provides neither, the movie never really trying hard enough to do justice to either side of this genre equation. The two sides never meld into something that would justify the experiment, the zombie additions feeling more like a burden than an asset when all is said and done.
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