In the early 19th century, much of England has been overrun by ghouls. Meanwhile, the Bennet sisters juggle zombie-slaying with romance.
A few years ago we got Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a movie that promised to revitalise a fusty subject by unleashing monsters on it. It turned out to be a joyless dud. Now along comes Pride + Prejudice + Zombies, a similar project, based on another mash-up book by Seth Grahame-Smith. Sad to say, while it’s better than its predecessor, the formula remains unmastered.
Matt Smith steals the show as the silly Mr. Collins, milking lines like, “Oh fuddle,” for all they’re worth.
At least this time there’s a cracking cast. Leaning into those “new Keira Knightley” comparisons by taking on a role Knightley played in 2005, Lily James proves adept at all the variations of shade Elizabeth Bennet requires, by turns coquettish, plucky and peeved. While Sam Riley’s Mr. Darcy is a little bland, heavyweight names like Charles Dance and Lena Headey provide support. And Matt Smith steals the show as the silly Mr. Collins, milking lines like, “Oh fuddle,” for all they’re worth.
But all of the above just makes you lament that this adaptation has those two extra words in the title, because every time a zombie lurches on screen the film stops dead. The problems begin with the set-up: this is a world where the threat is nothing new, where country estates have been fortified and ladies carry blades beneath their corsets. That means that none of the characters worry too much about the decomposing bastards — and for long stretches, the film appears to forget about them too. Then, all of a sudden, a scene will come along that drops reams of exposition about a “zombie Antichrist” or the “Four Horsemen”. Rather than instill a sense of dread and urgency, the muddled mythology further bogs us down and feels shoehorned in.
There are some decent action beats in the effects-packed last reel, as our heroes head to London for a desperate stand-off against the zombie hordes. But they can’t dispel the feeling that this is a misshapen venture, a horror-comedy without much in the way of laughs or scares. And zombie purists beware: these biters don’t just run. They talk too.
The premise promised Regency class and Romero shocks. The results, though, are only intermittently entertaining, and a better adaptation of Austen than a monster mash.