Jane Austen and zombis, an absurd mash-up? Think twice: the exiguity of an estate, the difficulty to find someone not already smitten/bitten, the iron rule of survival in the hostile environment of a meat market, social or visceral… Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 concept novel of the same name was killing to be clever and very successful, so a movie adaptation was to be expected. It is unfortunate that it took seven years to bring it onscreen, overfed as we are in 2016 by all things zombi.
It would be both herculean and meaningless to cross-reference Pride+Prejudice+Zombis with both its original sources or any or all of the previous Jane Austen adaptations, including, yes, The Bridget Jones’ Diary. No plot recap is necessary anyway: Elisabeth Bennet, elder of a sorority of five girls when the estate is bequested to a male heir, Parson Collins, Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley, both wealthy bachelors, are as familiar to most as Frankenstein and his creature. If it entices some of its audience to read Jane Austen, hell, this movie is no The Walking Dead. Perspective is all.
So, what about this particular piece of work? The trailer made one expecting the worst, a bodice-ripping Sucker Punch with zombi attacks as the alpha and the omega of the movie. Fortunately, it is much better than that. But no action movie this is. Successful at conversation pieces but quite lame at zombi mayhem, one suspects the movie achieves the exact opposite that it was aiming at: a clever adaptation of a classic by virtue of good dialogue instead of an doomsday invasion, its zombis more catalytic than apocalyptic. Lines like “It must have have cost a fortune to clean the zombi blood from this marble” are pitch perfect; recitation of Jane Austen’s lines during Shaolin training feels forced.
Some scenes are unintentionally hilarious, like the five sisters massacring a whole zombi hamlet with not a drop of blood staining their white ball gloves, or Mr Darcy tending at the topiary by moonlight, not once but twice. Some are just really well written, like Elisabeth Bennett (Lily James) laughing at an hideous painting or Parson Collins (Matt Jones) small talk during a quadrille. As is most unfortunately usual, the third act is a mess, almost but not saved by a final scene who says it all: fighting was useless from the get-go, see, and the movie has no qualms admitting it is. Is it irony or shamelessness, one wonders.
“I was in the middle before knowing I has started”, states one of the original novel’s most famous line. In this instance, one was in the middle when one hoped it ended. Too long at 1:47, Pride+Prejudice+Zombis is nevertheless much better than expected from its undead genre. One is fervently awaiting more of the same, like Henry James’ The Golden Cup of Blood or Charles Dicken’s Our Mutual Fiend.