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April 23, 2024

Pride, Prejudice, Zombies and disappointment

By TIM FREBORG | February 25, 2016


GAGE SKIDMORE/CC BY-SA 2.0 Sam Riley stars as Colonel Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a zombiefied take on Jane Austen.

However, as much as it utterly pains me to say this, no, Austen was not sorely missing any of those elements and the film suffers greatly for it.

“Whoever chases two rabbits shall catch neither” is one of those proverbs that I’ve encountered in quite a few contexts. While its meaning and merit, like most proverbs, can be debated ad nauseam, from my perspective it’s always been something of a warning against broadness, over-ambition and lack of focus. However, meanings and merits of the phrase aside, there are certainly instances where it seems to ring agonizingly true, and when I left the theater after a viewing of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this phrase echoed through my head the entire way back home.

The film opens on the ever-famous Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley) as he goes about his usual day-to-day business: slaying legions of deceptive undead whose hunger for flesh has allowed them to infiltrate what seems to be every level of society. After an introduction that wouldn’t feel out of place in a PG-13 Walking Dead rip-off, the film rapidly introduces us to the equally acclaimed Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and her sisters, now apparently living in China and studying martial arts.

However, not content with her daughters remaining single combat trainees forever, the Bennet family matriarch invokes the classic Austen calling card of marriage and attempts to set up one of her children with one of their neighbors, a Mr. Bingley (Douglass Booth). Elizabeth, however, is not content to simply be married off to the first man that chooses her, leaving her sister Jane to the realms of romance. Before long, though, she and Darcy find themselves on a collision course that will shake both of their worlds to their very core and answer the question of whether romance can exist in this rotting, corpse-infested world.

While admittedly this is an over-simplified summary of the film’s basic conceit, it does drive the point that needs to be addressed: this film is quite literally Pride and Prejudice with a few zombies and action sequences thrown in for good measure. While admittedly a cute idea (and perhaps a bit of a tongue-in-cheek jab at how ludicrously oversaturated the market has become with zombie products), it is unfortunate that the film really doesn’t do very much with what should be a very fun setup.

Every element one would expect of a classic Austen novel can be found here: lavish parties, stirring romance, invocations and questioning of social hierarchies and a fiercely independent protagonist. There is only one element that the film lacks: any of the charm, depth or sense of character. What we have in their place are poorly paced action sequences and story elements straight out of a 13-year-old’s fanfiction library. The added elements of combat, action and melodrama just don’t mesh with the material the film is trying to spoof.

The action scenes in particular are guilty of this. While admittedly entertaining the first few times, it’s astonishing how quickly zombie slaying can get so dull. Every scene ends in one of two ways: zombies appear, inciting a fight, or the characters themselves come to blows. As a result, these scenes lose any poignancy or entertainment value as they devolve into shoehorned segues into the next scene. What’s even more egregious is that they invariably break the mood of the prior scene and replaces it with one of lukewarm gaping at the cheesy PG-13 gore.

An argument might be made that I am looking for depth in a film that quite simply isn’t meant to have it. After all, this is clearly a parody. It wouldn’t be fair to compare Star Wars to Spaceballs or Dr. No with Austin Powers. I would argue, though, that the film does not even work as a parody. Its close resemblance to the original work prevents it from carving out a unique identity for itself. Its comedy comes almost solely from mentioning Darcy and zombies in the same sentence, nothing more.

It is a parody, yes, but it’s a parody that doesn’t click together, that doesn’t harmonize. Rather than being a source of humor, drama or another similarly potent element, these integrated bits of story feel pointless, extraneous and, worst of all, tired and boring. While certainly not the worst film out there at the moment, this is a film that I would heartily recommend giving a miss.

Overall Rating: 2/10

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