What could make every love-crazy middle school girl’s favorite romance novel ever even better than it already is? Well, with a story of such preestablished significance to our culture, you wouldn’t think that much could improve things, but if you were to ask Seth Grahme-Smith, he would look you in the eye and casually answer with brutal honesty: “Zombies. Duh.” And so the best-selling author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter made it happen, blending his own horror twist with Austen’s own novel, making a completely one way collaboration that doesn’t even let the opposite party consent. Would Austen approve or even want her name plastered on the cover? It’s hard to say. But here we are, and now we’re getting the big screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that no one asked for.
No one asked for it to be this much fun either.
Working from his own screenplay, director Burr Steers (director of the Zac Efron led 17 Again and Charlie St. Cloud) and novel author Seth Grahme-Smith do some risky business by making this virtually a frame for frame remake of the original. There are moments scattered throughout that had me wondering if I had accidentally slipped into a special screening of Joe Wright’s 2005 film. Those wonderings were vanquished as soon as the zombies showed up and began eating people, but when they aren’t on screen (and there’s a lot of minutes without zombies by the way), it’s almost hard to tell. Even though I enjoyed the movie for the most part, I find it difficult to credit Steers’ screenplay because most of the stuff I liked involved the human romances, which can only be credited to Jane Austen.
What doesn’t work in the film is the zombie stuff, which is crazy coming from someone that loves zombies and loves the idea of twisting a classic story to include the undead. But really, for a movie titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I expected there to be some seriously balls-to-the-wall awesome and disgusting zombie action. And not failing to give credit where credit is due, this is one unbelievably violent PG-13 movie. Until I looked up the movie online after seeing it, I was convinced that it was rated R. There are zombie brains. There is blood. There is even a closeup of a zombie being shot in the head by a shotgun, which, obviously, causes its head to explode like a pumpkin. And zombie baby is something i won’t forget any time soon.
Still, it was the fact that the violence was so gruesome for its rating that shocked me. That doesn’t mean the zombie stuff entirely works. It isn’t poorly filmed, or even poorly designed for that matter, but for some reason, the majority of the times the zombies showed up, I was taken out of it. And in retrospect, while the presence of the zombies is constantly there and looming in the background, there aren’t many of them in the film. They have their time to shine, don’t get me wrong, but after I left the theater, I wasn’t thinking of anything besides the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
That is, of course, the heartbeat of Austen’s novel, and a lively heartbeat it is. This is one of the great fictional romances, one that everyone is familiar with (and for good reason). Austen’s portrayal of the separation of classes and the lack of boundaries that comes with love is the most popular (and maybe the best) of its kind since Shakespeare penned Romeo and Juliet. And that very romance overshadows the zombies and permeates nearly every scene, and I think that works for the film and not against it.
Taking Austen’s ever popular characters and attempting to cast them can prove to be an intimidating task. People who are in love with a text will always find something to bicker about (see a lot of fans’ reactions to Keira Knightley in the 2005 film). In the case of Zombies, there are actually quite a few casting choices that I really liked. First up is Jack Huston, who here plays Mr. Wickham. I’m a huge fan of Boardwalk Empire, and seeing him in movies that don’t entirely suck (The Longest Ride wasn’t bad) is satisfying for me, mainly because seeing him fail would break my heart. Also, as a fan of Game of Thrones, seeing Charles Dance as Mr. Bennet was not only refreshing, but spot on casting. Lena Headey (also from Thrones, in a far more unlikable role) is also okay in this movie, even if she does seem to be playing another version of Cersei Lannister in a Hollywood picture. Oh well. But my favorite performance in the movie comes from Lily James, who plays Elizabeth with apparent passion and enjoyment. I loved watching her in this role, and she seemed to be having a blast with it.
Look, I know I’ve spent the majority of this review praising the movie, but it needs to be stated that this isn’t a particularly “good movie.” It’s fun, and I think that’s why I enjoyed it. But I also think that if you see it, you aren’t getting much more than you would if you chose to stay home and watch Joe Wright’s version. I enjoyed it because I like Pride and Prejudice, and this is, at its core, what this movie is. It wants you to think it’s going to be a zombie-kill-a-minute action flick but it isn’t that at all. It’s silly, yes, but it’s also about its characters. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t much, but I sure did enjoy it.