Well, I will give this credit to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the second adaptation of a Seth Grahame-Smith concept novel—it is not nearly as bad as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That movie is a f*cking disaster. PPZ is just stupid and boring. It’s neither a good zombie movie nor Jane Austen adaptation, which is weird because the book IS good at being both of those things. The book is a pretty straightforward retelling of Pride and Prejudice, it’s just that instead of sitting around knitting and reading, Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters are trained ninjas who fight zombies. The movie captures a little of that—the Bennet sisters are seen polishing guns where more traditional adaptations would show them sewing—but it botches the zombie angle so badly it’s mystifying. How did they arrive at THIS version of events, the stupidest of all possibilities?
Produced by Natalie Portman—who was once going to star in it herself—and written and directed by Burr Steers (who has never delivered on the promise of Igby Goes Down), PPZ is a frustrating mish-mash of bad ideas and worse ideas that utterly wastes an otherwise great cast. Lily James stars as Elizabeth Bennet, and I would gladly watch her Lizzie in a regular adaptation of this material. Ditto for Bella Heathcote as Jane, and especially Matt Smith, who is BRILLIANT as Mr. Collins. The movie actually wastes the book’s best zombie twist, which changes the Charlotte/Mr. Collins subplot in a sad way that would have been neat to see on screen.
The book uses the constant, low-level threat of zombies—they’re just around, something that people have adjusted to living with—to twist the classic story into a darker, sadder tale where love becomes an all-important beacon to cling to. But the movie version makes the zombies a more urgent concern, introducing an overwhelmingly stupid plot in which the zombies are capable of organization and intelligence. Yes, that’s right, these are smart zombies, which is basically just a cannibal. It’s the dumbest idea in the world—the whole point of zombies is that they’re a brain-dead ravening horde—and it does not mesh at all with Pride and Prejudice.
The only scene in the movie that really works is Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Lizzie, in which she rejects him. That survives intact from the book, with the two of them engaging in a knock-down, drag-out fight as they argue over who offended whom first. It’s a neat piece of fight choreography and James nails Lizzie’s combination of hurt pride and utter shock even as she’s got Darcy in a choke hold. And it’s capped off with Mr. Collins barging in and crying over a broken table, “This was an antique,” which is just perfect—Matt Smith is the MVP of PPZ. It’s what the whole movie should have been—the Pride and Prejudice we know with some genre stuff shaded into the margins.
I just don’t know who this movie is for. The zombie element doesn’t work AT ALL, so it’s not for zombie/genre fans. But the P&P side is brought down by the botched genre elements, which forces characters like Lady Catherine into unrecognizable shapes that won’t appeal to P&P fans. The trick to this concept is balancing it so that P&P remains the story we know and love, just with this unexpected element thrown in to reframe classic scenes, like that proposal. But the movie goes wildly overboard, throwing out the novel’s workable concept and replacing it with some cannibal nonsense no one will enjoy. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies feels like someone somewhere didn’t trust the audience to get the concept, so they tried to force it into a standard blockbuster apocalypse scenario. But really, the concept is in the title, and it’s very simple. It’s Pride and Prejudice, with zombies. There’s no need to take it any further than that.
Attached - Lily James, Sam Riley, Matt Smith, and Bella Heathcote and the London premiere of the film last week.