It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” Whether or not you just winced will tell you how much you’re likely to enjoy Pride + Prejudice + Zombies.
Burr Steers’ (17 Again) film takes Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel – the turbulent love story of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet – and sets it during an undead plague. Naturally, this means that Bennet, played by Cinderella’s Lily James, is now a master of martial arts; while Darcy (Sam Riley), styled like a member of My Chemical Romance, is England’s foremost zombie killer.
The film’s based on the eponymous 2009 novel by Seth Graham-Smith, the author who spawned the literary-horror mash-up genre but didn’t do it any favours with his self-scripted adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a film which was neither sharp nor fun enough to translate the trend to the screen. P + P + Z, however, might just do it.
Tonally, Steers hits the mark: rather than constantly winking at the audience, he plays straight and measured, executing the whole thing as if it makes perfect sense. As such, there’s a pleasingly seamless fit between Austen’s original text – a treatise on marriage, wealth and class – and scenes such as the Bennet sisters, in period dress and armed with swords, slicing a ballroom full of zombies to bits.
It’s a surreal dance of old and new, but one handled with poker-faced grace by the cast, from Charles Dance as patriarch Mr Bennet to his Game Of Thrones co-star Lena Headey as the badass Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The exception to all this underplaying is Matt Smith, who hams it up hilariously as doddery priest Mr. Collins.
So far, so funny; but before long it becomes awkwardly apparent that this is a film rooted in the single gag ‘LOL zombies’ – a novelty that, while sharply done, needs more narrative brawn to sustain it.
The biggest problem is act three, which builds to a zombie invasion that’s not only surprisingly dull but, unlike earlier, struggles to mesh with Austen’s dramatic beats. You can’t help wondering what the author would be more startled by – seeing her most famous work hosed down with gore, or the Elizabeth/Darcy relationship handled so bloodlessly.