In a revisionist Regency England overrun by zombies, five sisters, trained in the deadly arts, fend off undead hordes and an overeager mother, desperate to marry them off to wealthy men.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!!
When Natalie Portman announced she was taking this project on, I was stoked. It had such potential to be this kooky mash-up of a comedy of manners and a hack-n-slash zombie apocalypse. It’s got something for everybody, and yet, on Valentine’s Day weekend my husband and I were only one of three couples in the theater.
What went wrong?
The film manages to squeeze in a lot of clunky exposition into a puppet-show style opening credit sequence reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, but the plot is condensed and there are supernatural elements that are not adequately explained without background knowledge of the book. The Charlotte Lucas story thread was cut out almost entirely, a unforgiveable waste of Aisling Loftus (Agnes Towler, Mr. Selfridge) which bothered to distraction.
Matt Smith is quite possibly the saving grace of this entire film, thank God that they gave him a larger role. He just says the most inappropriate things and he’s so charmingly full of himself as Mr. Collins that he’s adorable. But as he’s Matt Smith, you never really forget that he’s him. He doesn’t get lost in the role and half of the time, I was looking for the Tardis.
My husband and I both agreed, we’d like this movie better if it were either:
- Pride and Prejudice (no zombies) with Matt Smith reprising his role as Mr. Collins, or,
- some original story set in a Regency England that is overrun by the stricken.
The two together, they don’t mix well, despite my enjoyment of the New York Times’ bestselling novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith (released in 2009). There isn’t enough attention given to the original story which is just the backdrop really for the zombies.
The dialogue from the original Pride and Prejudice is spliced in with Jane Austen quotes from her other works — Persuasion (the second proposal scene), Northanger Abbey (near Hingman Bridge) — anyone catch any others? Those are just two references that caught my attention on a first viewing. With the DVD release, I’m positive there could be more lurking, waiting to reveal their abashed heads.
Also problematic is that some of the story beats are too overt, and I am not sure I buy this idea of a zombie aristocracy. It’s as if they’ve supplanted the original idea of domesticating zombies (from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith) with this notion of intelligent zombies instead. Small plus, cosplayers will adore all the weaponry hidden in the Regency gowns.
Despite some of the lavish film sets (Rosings) and the obvious green screens (London, for example), the film feels restrained and it isn’t just that there’s not a variety of locations. Lena Headey (Queen Cersei, Game of Thrones) lends a regal air to Lady Catherine de Bourgh but she’s given practically nothing to do — were they afraid Headey would break? What about the awesome dojo fight scene that is instead reduced to one bulky henchmen in the Bennet’s basement dojo (if you could call it that, too dark to see much of anything and calling it a Shaolin-style dojo requires more suspension of disbelief than I am prepared to give).
I think that restraint may ultimately be the root of the problem. Though an obvious spoof of the original, the film is trying to toe the line with credible ‘serious’ acting performances in this bizarre horror setting and it’s as if the makers were unclear where to draw the line between parody and faithful original and what we’re presented with is an in-between of middling performances that are at times, awkward and confusing or irrelevant, and that doesn’t quite deliver the “fun” element that we expect.
Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts below or keep reading for the trailer and my overall rating.
The film is rated PG-13 with a running time of 1 hr and 47 minutes, classified by IMDB as an “action, horror, romance”.
Starring Lily James (Elizabeth Bennet), Sam Riley (Mr. Darcy), Jack Huston (Mr. Wickham), Bella Heathcote (Jane Bennet), Douglas Booth (Mr. Bingley), Matt Smith (Mr. Collins), Charles Dance (Mr. Bennet) and Lena Headey (Lady Catherine de Bourgh).
Rotten Tomato score: 46%
I’m giving it a solid three as I did actually like it, despite its problems. Given the Rotten Tomato score, I doubt this will remain in theaters for very long so get out there and check it out while you still can. Oh, and Happy Valentines Day!