‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ a twist on a classic

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This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.

A peculiar twist on Jane Austen’s literary classic, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” takes the beloved tale of lovers Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, “Cinderella”) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, “Control”) and introduces another obstacle to their complicated romance: an army of the undead.

Based on the funny—but occasionally trifling—parody novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” takes the premise and injects some much-needed life and confidence into the proceedings. While the novel often sought to remind you how clever it thought it was, the film succeeds by actually being clever. Grahame-Smith co-wrote the screenplay with director Burr Steers (“17 Again”), and Steers seems to reel in the author’s more ridiculous tendencies, creating something that is comfortable at juxtaposing the jokes, the drama and the action without being over the top. The film pokes fun at the absurdity of both the zombie genre and its melodramatic source material with surprisingly intelligent writing, directing and acting.

The acting in particular is a pleasant surprise. The majority of Austen adaptations are not famous for their acting, and the same goes for zombie flicks with premises this outlandish. However, every single actor seems fully committed to their role, bringing humor, heart, and tenacity to every scene. James, who dazzled many with her breakout role in “Cinderella,” is a fine heroine, providing one of the best Elizabeth Bennet portrayals put to the screen while providing the roughness necessary to be convincing as an action heroine. Riley’s Mr. Darcy isn’t quite as notable, but he does successfully play the role in a way that lampoons how annoying both the Darcy character and overly masculine action heroes can be. The real star of the show is Matt Smith (“Doctor Who”) who provides most of the effortlessly hilarious comic relief as Mr. Collins. Smith dives head first into the role, making even the film’s weakest jokes play out brilliantly and delivering comedy work at its finest every time he comes on screen.

As for the action and horror elements, they play quite well into Austen’s narrative. While it might be a stretch to call the film original, it certainly stands on its own and it’s easy to see that the film could succeed just as well without the Austen narrative. Steers, who isn’t a well-known or particularly successful director, does find some style to play with in the substance and, as a result, the film has some solid imagery. The action is well crafted, has a fantastic air of humor and is never afraid to show off the skills and power of its female heroes. The art direction brings out the elegance of the period’s chic as well as creating an amusingly grim post-apocalyptic dystopia.

While ultimately charming and very entertaining to watch, the film isn’t entirely without flaws. The ending is disappointingly cliché and, surprisingly, comes too quickly. While most parodies of this nature seem to drag, this one moves so briskly that the ending feels far too sudden and not played out to its full potential. This is most likely done as an effort to set up possible sequels and not give the audience too much, but too many films these days are guilty of that annoyance. Despite these final errors, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is an unexpectedly fun and brainy affair.

Ryan Ninesling