Though the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies fails to be everything I hoped it would be, it definitely has more fun with adding the undead to the Jane Austen classic than Seth Grahame-Smith did while writing his uninspired book.
The title really says it all when it comes to what Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is about. It’s Pride and Prejudice with zombies. So much so that in Grahame-Smith’s version he failed to make that premise his own: instead, he basically just copy/pasted Austen’s original text and occasionally added an “unmentionable” or whatever name the brain eaters were going by in that story. There was nothing original in the book he put out, so to say I was disappointed back when I read it in prep for this movie is a severe understatement (you can read my full review here).
Luckily Burr Steers (what a name) was not afraid to make this premise his own when both writing and directing the movie. Right off the bat the film lets you know what it is when Darcy shows up at a high society bruncheon and decapitates a zombie hiding among the other guests. It’s gory, it’s bloody, and it’s shocking in how unexpected it is. Soon viscera and other body goop is flying everywhere as craniums explode and limbs are sliced from their bodies, and it’s hard not to laugh at the absurdity. The humor and violence is blended perfectly as the movie revels in how ludicrous its premise is, and it’s great.
The problem is when Steers remembers the original story and struggles to get back to it while also trying to do something original, throwing the structure and tone completely off. Whereas before the movie is extremely aware of itself, at some point it goes off course, remembering that it is a classic story and the ridiculous elements don’t belong. There is still some fun to be had thanks to Elizabeth’s prowess with a sword and plenty of interactions continue to turn violent (think of how conversations were held over dance sequences in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, but switch the dancing with sparring), but Zombies never gets back to what it once was. At some point nothing seems to fit, from the aspects of the book forced to remain in this new story (such as Lady Catherine’s unwanted impediment in her nephew’s love life, the reappearance of Elizabeth’s friendship with Charlotte, Lydia’s sudden relationship with Mr. Wickham, to the all important letter from Darcy to Elizabeth), all the while a zombie conspiracy rears its four ugly, apocalyptic horsemen heads in what I can only assume is a grab for possible sequels. It doesn’t make sense, and worst of all, it’s no longer stupidly fun, it’s just stupid.
As disappointed as I was with this not being what I imagined the perfect version of what Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should be, Burr Steers still gets a lot of credit for trying something when Grahame-Smith was too afraid to do so. It’s just a shame that the latter half of the movie fails to continue with everything that was working so well at first.