Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Written & Directed by Burr Steers

What a world we now live in when we can gleefully watch Elizabeth Bennett maliciously ward off zombies with her sword, while also attempting, in vain, to ward off the amorous affections of Mr. Darcy! I cannot help but feel that the concept of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will be the zenith of the current Zombie craze, which was aided by the success of The Walking Dead on AMC, and the idea of people preparing to survive the zombie apocalypse by building bunkers and storing up on canned goods. Combining the classic literary tale of Pride and Pejudice with such a fad as zombies, whose popularity will likely wax and wane forever, seems at once audacious and also completely unnecessary. Such an undertaking offers the possibility of something altogether different and unique, but it also walks a fine line, interfering which such a beloved tale.

As we know of the Pride and Prejudice story before, the Bennett sisters, lead by the fair Jane (Bella Heathcote) and independent Elizabeth (Lily James), are a beautiful group of siblings looking to marry eligible gentlemen. What we didn’t know is they are fierce, highly trained zombie killers, protecting their estate in a time when the zombies are spreading much faster than humans can handle. London has been protected by a great wall and moat, along with the zombie hunting prowess of Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley). When Mr. Darcy is introduced to the Bennett’s upon his trip to Hertfordshire accompanying his friend, Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), he and Elizabeth immediately show signs of disdain for each other. But as the zombie war intensifies, so too does the cold relationship between these two fiercely independent zombie warriors.

I cannot help but consider the ridiculousness of that plot description. But at the same time, as I mentioned in my opening, it is an audacious and bold approach, and one which may very well yield such a unique and different marriage of styles as to create something never before seen, something that sits on its own in artistic achievement. I, however, do not believe that is what has occurred here. I must admit to such an ambiguous reaction to the film as to not fully understand whether what I had just seen (and not entirely enjoyed) was actually something so groundbreaking that it warranted consideration as a great creation. Instead, I have gleaned that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is simply something of novelty, which never fully commits itself to either being a moving, romantic period piece, or a fully emblazoned entry into the zombie action-horror genre. By tip-toeing the line between these two things, PPZ falters in ever feeling like a committed work with the ambition to pave new roads for either genre.

It has its merits, certainly, which are first and foremost held on the side of the longstanding classic story of Pride and Prejudice, which should be of no surprise as that is a story so timeless and perfect it would be difficult to screw up. Yet, PPZ attempts to, which calls into question what type of audience this film may be geared towards. Elizabeth Bennett is depicted in such a way as to at least maintain the spirit of her original character, though the Zombie equivalent looks nothing like her as we know her. The problem I see facing this film is the fact that it tried to be too much. The director/screenwriter, Burr Steers, commits the film to be fully period piece and fully zombie action-horror. The result is a film that feels far too jarring when the switch is made between these two things through the course of the narrative. Ultimately, the zombie elements feel intrusive to the story we already know and love.

I also wonder what type of audience this may attract. I know that the book the film is based on has a following, but for those unfamiliar, what is the attraction? For fan of Pride and Prejudice, the film will ruin the tale with the insertion of zombies into the setting. For fans of zombies, the inclusion of a narrative which devotes itself to being as true to the source material of Pride and Prejudice as is possible with zombies, the period style romance may serve as a detraction. I seem more conflicted with this film than I have been in some time after a screening. Perhaps time will sway my opinion, but for now, I cannot readily recommend this movie to hardly anybody, as it feels like more of a mess of cross-genre narrative than it does a steadily, assuredly directed film which tries to bring together the best of two different things. Instead, it’s just the lessening of two good things to make one rather poor thing.

** – Poor

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