With a film like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies there is a question of how the filmmakers will choose to balance the prim and proper of Jane Austen’s original novel with the fanboy nature of Zombie entertainment. The 2009 Seth Grahame-Smith novel works as a novel-length joke: “Here is Pride And Prejudice...except with some zombies.” I think this premise works better on the page than it does on the screen. Though there are some solid performances and fun action, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is never able to successfully balance between their two opposing tones.
Written and directed by Burr Steers, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should be commended for its commitment to creating a proper English period piece…with zombies. The cast, the costumes, the production design, the music, everything works together to create the world of Jane Austen’s original novel. This is where the film works, it is cool to see proper British aristocrats speaking about the undead. I would say the film is a pretty successful adaptation of Austen’s work, it is when they try to incorporate Grahame-Smith’s Zombies that the film loses it’s footing.
With a premise and a title as ridiculous as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you would think that the film would revel in its goofiness. As mentioned, it doesn’t, the film plays it straight. Again, this works in the novel, it is funny that the book has 1800’s style writing, yet with the zombie apocalypse looming in the background. In the film, what we have is a good looking period piece cut together with bizarre zombie horror/action. A film like this should be in on the joke, knowing how ridiculous it is, laughing at the premise just like the audience is laughing at the premise.
With all this talk of seriousness, you might think the film works because of its lack of comedy, but this is where the filmmakers made another bad creative choice: there IS comedy. There are a handful of times where the characters wink at the audience, “look at how we took the original character and made her a sword-wielding bad ass.” These moments are pretty funny actually, but they make for a confusing film when watched in the context of the rest of the story. On the humorous side, Matt Smith is wonderful in his role as the awkward clergyman, there are some really funny moments.
So we have one part successful Jane Austen adaptation, one part semi-goofy adaptation, one part action movie…and one part PG-13 Zombie movie. So the Pride and Prejudice stuff works pretty well (when separated from the meta humor), how are the zombies? While the effects are appropriately grotesque, almost every action scene reminds you that you are watching a PG-13 film. Sometimes you will see our characters swinging the swords and shooting the guns, but all of the resulting destruction will happen off screen. Sometimes the action scenes take place 90% in the dark so we don’t see any overly gory action. Worst of all, many of the plot’s central action conflicts are between to human characters, with zombies running around in the background.
Not quite fun enough to be a grind house-style zombie movie, yet not serious enough to be a George A. Romero-style reflection on human society. Just enough action for some slow-motion spectacle, but without an R-rating to properly show Zombie violence. There is dedication to the goal of a period piece, but then it is derailed by jarring scenes of modern humor. There are so many elements at play in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and on their own they may work, but together it makes for a very confused film. For fans of the Austen novel, this film works as one big inside joke. For the rest of the audience, there is not enough of a commitment to either Pride and Prejudice or the Zombies, and you would be better off watching two separate movies rather than one that tries to mash them together.