The immense popularity of ‘The Walking Dead’ TV show didn’t begin the latest zombie craze in our culture, but it definitely contributed to the enthusiasm for which people embrace the undead. Well, maybe “embrace” is the wrong word. Still, those pesky undead are showing up everywhere, even in the whimsical and surprisingly entertaining bucolic historical setting of Jane Austen’s masterwork “Pride and Prejudice”.
It’s the English countryside in the mid-1800s and Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) is one of five lovely Bennet daughters who need to be married off into good homes. This is a story about social classes, and she’s torn between the smoldering, dashing Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) and the boring but wealthy Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth). Problem is, she doesn’t really like either of them and as Mr. Bingley decides sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) is more interesting, Elizabeth meets the sophisticated and reserved Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston).
Problem is, Mr. Wickham is rather a cad and there’s some mysterious history between him and Mr. Darcy, who might not be quite the victim of circumstance he portrays with his smoldering looks, emo hairstyle and frequent spins on his heel to walk away, the injured or terminally misunderstood soldier.
Oh, and there are zombies. Lots of zombies, referred to as “the stricken” and “unmentionables”, and Mr. Darcy is a zombie hunter in the army, quick with a sword. But the Bennet girls are all part of this world too and have all been sent to China to train in the martial arts. Elizabeth is at home with a katana and is often the first to react to zombie incursions into the otherwise refined, albeit protected, society teas and whist parties of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.’
And here’s what really surprised me: The movie’s quite a lot of fun, in a very similar vein to the under-appreciated and silly ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.’ ‘PPZ’ is most assuredly not a serious movie, nor was it a serious book, but there’s something entertaining and amusing about the juxtaposition of high English society from the 1800’s and a zombie apocalypse.
What stands out most is the production value of the film. As directed by first timer Burr Steers, it’s a light, breezy, and very competent entry in the horror genre that has some requisite jump-scares and gory moments, but surprisingly few of them, as if Steers wanted to keep it as serious as possible. The sets, the exterior shots and the delightful animated history series all work well together to keep the film engaging and amusing.
The performances are all surprisingly good too, particularly for a film that could have played as a simple parody, with a special nod to a hilarious, effeminate performance by Matt Smith (of ‘Doctor Who‘ fame) as the nitwit parson Mr. Collins too.
If you want to see ‘Pride and Prejudice’ without zombies, Keira Knightly (as Elizabeth) captured the spirit, the sophistication and the oppression of the Austen novel beautifully in the 2005 release of the same name. But if you’re a fan of the undead and of playful mashups, then rather to my surprise, I’ll recommend ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ to you. It’s a great date film. If your date likes zombies!