[Review] 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'

[Review] ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ is a Mostly Successful (and Funny) RomZomCom!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Review

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has had a long and difficult road to the big screen. Announced way back in 2009 (two months before the book it is based on even came out), it has seen it’s fair share of directors ranging from the likes of David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) to Mike White (HBO’s Enlightened) to Craig Gillispie (Lars and the Real Girl, the Fright Night remake). Natalie Portman was even set to star at one point. Now, we have this current incarnation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, 17 Again) and starring Lily James (Disney’s recent live-action adaptation of Cinderella). Was it worth the wait? Mostly, yes.

During a visually impressive pop-up book opening credits sequence, we learn that in 19th century England, a mysterious plague has turned many of the citizens into zombies. Those who are left alive are trained in martial arts (Japanese for the wealthy, Chinese for the poor) and must deal with the deadly threat while also attempting to find true love. At the center of it all is Elizabeth (James), one of five Bennett sisters who cares more about survival than finding a husband. When Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) takes an immediate liking to the eldest Bennet sister Jane, Elizabeth must contend with the standoffish Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) whom she clashes with immediately over his arrogant pride and social prejudices (get it?) while fending off hordes of the undead.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a novel that has been adapted countless times over. Besides film adaptations in 1940, 1958, 1995 and 2005, it has seen modern reinterpretations in the form of Bridget Jones’s Diary in 2001 and the Bollywood-style Bride and Prejudice from 2004. Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a fun diversion but nothing more. In that novel, Grahame-Smith kept most of Austen’s prose in tact but replaced certain words with zombie-related terms. It was a gimmick that began as entertaining but quickly grew tiresome once you realized that many of the best parts of the novel were actually Austen’s words rather than Grahame-Smith’s.

The film benefits from the medium, working much better as a two hour movie than a 300-page novel. The zombie aspect still feels like a gimmick, but the translation to the screen is more smooth than it was in the novel. The problem still remains that many of the parts that work best in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are adapted from Austen’s original novel instead of Grahame-Smith’s, but it’s not as bothersome while watching a film. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies may very well be one of the few examples of a film that improves upon the novel it is based on.

Performances are solid across the board. James kicks ass as Elizabeth and imbues her with just the right amount of strength and vulnerability. Darcy has never been a favorite character of mine (not a popular sentiment as I understand, but it is what it is), but Riley plays the character much as he is expected to. Game of Thrones actors Lena Headey and Charles Dance are solid in their brief roles, but it is Matt Smith (Doctor Who) who steals the show, bringing laughs with every single one of his lines and mannerisms. The character of Mr. Collins is the primary comic relief in the film, and casting Smith has paid off in spades. If the movie seems to lull at points, it snaps back to life the second Smith walks back on screen.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The action scenes are also exceptional. Despite some choppy editing (more on that in a bit), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has some expertly choreographed fight scenes. One particular scuffle between Elizabeth and Darcy immediately comes to mind, but the film is peppered with entertaining battles.

It doesn’t hurt matters that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is actually hilarious. Some jokes fall flat, but overall the comedy aspects of the film (and make no mistake, this film is a comedy) work extremely well. It is funny without being silly, which many viewers will find refreshing.

Unfortunately, the film falls apart in its third act. This is all the more baffling considering it is the part of the adaptation to stray the most from both source materials (Austen’s original novel and Grahame-Smith’s novel). The changes in the plot involve an obvious attempt at a twist and a climactic battle in which the stakes never seem that high. For the most part, the film is adept at poking fun at its ridiculous premise, so it is surprising to see the final act embrace its cheesiness and play it all so seriously. It is an abrupt change in tone that doesn’t serve the story well at all.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies plays fast and loose, helping it’s nearly two-hour run time fly by, but this means that the emotional moments where a beat or two would have been welcome are glossed over. The aforementioned final act is rushed as well. It is respectable that the film attempts to surprise by creating a new conflict and denouement never seen before in any previous versions of the story, but the stakes just don’t ever seem that high, making it difficult to care with what is happening on screen.

A PG-13 rating also holds the film back. A horror film’s quality should never be judged by the amount of gore present on screen, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is no different, but the editing used to limit the gore is so choppy during the zombie attack scenes that is becomes difficult to tell what is going on. There are moments of inspiration when it comes to zombie-killing, like a kill from the zombie’s point of view in the prologue, but overall it is far too tame and is an example of lazy filmmaking (or too much studio involvement. You decide.). After the critical and commercial flop that was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (another adaptation of a Seth Grahame-Smith novel), it’s not surprising to see why Sony opted to go the more box office-friendly PG-13 route.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is far from a perfect film, and fans of Austen’s novel will probably find more to gripe about than admire, but the fact is that this is a much better adaptation than anyone could have anticipated. This is especially true for a horror comedy being released in February, which is traditionally a dumping ground for lesser-quality studio horror films. If you can turn your brain off and enjoy the ride, you will find Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to be the most entertaining film of the season!

Official Score

  • Creepshow

    i want to like this, but I’m skeptical. The reason being is I heard BD mentioned in a trailer on TV. This review sounds very “roller coastery”, with its lows and not so highs.

    But I can turn my brain off and enjoy some entertaining, (good) trash as well.

    • For the record, the review was written back in December (I managed to get into a test screening). The trailer quote was asked from me 2 weeks ago. You don’t have to believe me, but that’s what happened.

      • Creepshow

        Thanks Trace! I believe what you say and I consider you a class act. And I give you credit for coming in here and scrapping with us. It shows you care, so thanks again.

        • Aw thanks! I do care and appreciate anyone who takes the time to read my stuff. It shows that YOU care.

  • sarah.jenice

    Thanks for the review, Trace! I’ve been looking forward to this for awhile.

    I read the book, and like you pointed out, thought it was too similar to Jane Austen’s original. Oh, and not to needlessly argue you, but I’ve always felt like Elizabeth was the pride of the equation and Darcy was the prejudice. She’s just so damn stubborn. ;p

  • sarah.jenice

    Thanks for the review, Trace! I’ve been wanting to see this for awhile.

    I read the book, and like you said, it was too much like Jane Austen’s original to keep me interested. Oh, and not to needlessly argue with you, but I always felt like Elizabeth was the pride in the equation and Darcy was the prejudice. She’s just so damn stubborn! ;p

  • Pressly Parrish

    Gotta say youre the best addition to this site Trace! Youve managed to make me even consider watching this movie from your review which i have been vocal about my disdain for!

    • I recommend it! It seems to be dividing critics but I enjoyed it! And thank you for the kind words!

    • J Jett

      Pressly i agree. Trace is indispensable here.

  • SugarShane333

    Once again Trace shows that there’s still a couple really good writers here. Great review.

    I knew absolutely nothing about the source material and planned to catch this once it was available on demand, but with the love story aspect and a pg13 rating I probably never will. Same reason I’ll never watch that Warm Bodies movie.

    • Aw I really like Warm Bodies!

      • SugarShane333

        I know. Most people seemed to like it. I just stay away from movies with a love story as a central theme.

        • I feel like you would be fascinating to have a conversation with. Why do you not like love stories? It should be noted that my 2 favorite film genres are horror and romantic comedy so….yeah.

          • SugarShane333

            I feel like more often than not there’s a completely unnecessary love story angle shoehorned in to otherwise enjoyable movies. That, in turn, has soured me on pretty much any movie with a love story as one of the central themes. Last night I watched Shooter and there was an easy opportunity to have Mark Wahlberg and his dead spotter’s ex wife get together, but Antoine Fuqua didn’t feel the need to cater to that demographic, and I appreciated the heck out of that.
            I just hate when I’m watching a horror or thriller or anything really where you have the main star and then a similarly attractive member of the opposite sex is introduced, and you just KNOW they’re gonna get together at some point. It feels formulaic and lazy to the point I just get annoyed. So, with all that in mind, if I know for sure the movie is about two people in love…I’m out. Most of the time.

          • Lisa

            Interesting take because the entire premise of this movie (and its source material) is that zombies are being shoehorned into what’s considered one of Jane Austen’s best love stories.

          • SugarShane333

            Yeah, see I just saw a trailer for a new horror movie, so I looked into it. I know zero about the source material.

          • That makes more sense. Austen’s novel and its film adaptations are lovely, lovely things. BUT it is a romance. Weirdly enough, PPZ SHOULDN’T work. But it does!

      • J Jett

        WARM BODIES is one of my all time faves!

  • wehoaks

    Ugh. Damn do I have to see this now? I respect Trace and his opinion… Dammit Trace!

    • Creepshow

      I will go see it in honor of Trace now, after opening my fat mouth. But I still stand behind my thoughts.

      • wehoaks

        I hope it is dumb fun. Because, honestly, it looks TERRRRRRRIBLE.

        • I can’t promise you’ll like it! But I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would!

          • wehoaks

            We have similar tastes so I bet it will be the same result for me!

        • Creepshow

          Hey man, this a comment to your old post. But save your $ on Pride & Zombies.

          • wehoaks

            You’re a hero.

          • Creepshow

            I kept my word, and watched it for Trace.
            Um…Trace owes me a matinee reimbursement.

          • Hey, I said I couldn’t guarantee you’d like it! But it did split critics. 43% on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t atrocious. And there were even some top critics who enjoyed it! I was one of those who thought it was a lot of fun. =)

          • Creepshow

            Ah Trace, I’m mostly joking!
            I had to see it because I read the book. And I was itching to see SOMETHING in the theaters after Krampus. ( I avoided “The Boy”)
            PP&Z wasn’t a bad movie. But just like the book, you are watching the actual Pride & Prejudice story with a dash and a sprinkle of zombies. It’s definitely not for everyone, and the box office receipts are showing it.
            But hey, I kept my word and saw it in your honor. You didn’t do anything wrong brother!

  • Great review Trace but damn that PG13 rating! When making a movie such as this why won’t studios shoot for R to be released on demand/home video and only edit down the theatre release if they must? When a movie like this is hosed down most of its fun gets washed away.

    • It IS still fun but yes, I still lament the PG-13 rating. I really think that since Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter flopped so bad with its R rating that they didn’t want to risk it with this one. Had PPZ come out first I bet they would have gone for the R.

      • You’re probably right but still a R rated cut would be nice once it hits the home front. BTW I really liked ALVH and the 3D was great.

  • Off topic: Trace you are so fucking HOT!

  • J Jett

    Trace, you and i often have similar tastes so i’m glad to read you liked this movie. it look pretty good to me too.

  • eli

    Imagine if Trace had reviewed all the Sundance movies on here over the last week or 2. Hopefully next year.

    • Creepshow

      Dude…I was thinking that exact…same…thing.

      Trace….Do it! Do it! (starsky & hutch)

  • This might as well be one of my guilty pleasure flicks. Also zombies in the victorian era, good combo. And Charles Dance and Lena Headey – I will watch anything that has them in it

  • REC03

    i hope they do an unrated for the Blu-Ray.