I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. However, as I entered the theater to see the film, I expected a version Pride and Prejudice that took place in the 19th century but reflected directorial styles and preferences of the present day, along with, well, along with zombies. By and large, I got what I expected. The movie was fairly attention-grabbing with fairly likable characters and a fairly original plot, which is to say, the film was interesting and fun, but far from exceptional. I think, though, that the film’s worth a view, for what it’s trying to do – combine our contemporary zombie-mania with classical literature to create a new and rare form of storytelling that pays heed to that which has come before and combines it with that which is popular now. The movie – and, presumably the book – try to resurrect classical literature into the realm of pop culture, with intriguing, though not compelling, ramifications.
The question that occurred to me before I saw the film was: how scary is this movie going to be? From the preview – which I saw many times – I thought the film would be feminist and sassy; a classy, well-dressed girl asserts that she’ll never relinquish her sword for a ring. And for the most part, it was. The shots of the zombies in the previews were frightening, but not horrifying. They certainly captured my interest, as the zombie’s movements seemed to flow more – making the zombies seem more conniving and insidious, than they are, in, say, The Walking Dead.
That observation leads me to my first praise and critique of the film. I’ve become – from binge-watching – in a short amount of time, a seasoned veteran of The Walking Dead. I feel I’m starting to know the show intimately after five and a half seasons, which is to say, I know the zombies intimately. The zombies are often grotesque, with flesh rotting off their protruding bones and off-putting jaws full of murderous teeth, but they’re too damn dumb to be scary. As Michael observed, The Walking Dead is gross – and certainly a fantastic character drama – but it’s not scary. You basically have these undead corpses, moaning and gasping and ambling around the Georgian landscape, aimlessly eating whatever crosses their paths. I love The Walking Dead, but when I seek horror in its rawest form, I say “give me a villain that is really a villain. Give me something evil, that connives and manipulates.”
The best part of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is that these zombies are intelligent, thinking beings with intention and agency. Though they crave human brains, they are not blind automatons stumbling from point a to the next brain. They calculate for what they want, and they often hide their malady. I wish, then, that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would have done more with this unique deviation from The Walking Dead. It is an unfair but expected reality that any current piece dealing with zombies is measured against the quintessential contemporary zombie show, The Walking Dead. There was so much room for the film to re-define the genre by delving more deeply and darkly into the sheer power of the intelligent zombie, but by and large, the film did not do this. The film was a love story, true to the plot of Pride and Prejudice, with some mutilated undead faces feasting in the backdrop.
Now, I offered this critique to Michael, who told me the book was the same way. Though I haven’t read the book, I accept his assurance. It’s hard, then, to critique a film that’s trying to stay true to the spirit of the original story, but I felt like there was something lacking in the film. I enjoyed its occasional humor – though there could have been more of this – and I very much liked the heroine, Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James). And of course, what self-professed feminist wouldn’t like a story about strong, empowered, warrior-women defending people against zombie attacks through martial arts and swords? What, then, was missing? I’ve already said more could be done to highlight the intelligent, insidious zombies, but that’s a critique coming from the perspective of a horror movie fan. Coming from the perspective, simply, of a movie fan, the film was missing something, but I don’t know what. It was an “okay” film, or an “interesting” film, but I feel it had the potential to be an exceptional film, and, for some reason, missed the mark.
That observation, of course, is a very vague critique. And aside from giving the zombies more of a center stage, I wish I could pinpoint what else the film lacked. Suffice it to say, I don’t mean to condemn the film brutally. Anyone who’s read the book should see the film, because that’s just the natural thing to do if you’ve read the book, and anyone who loves zombies should see the film, to see this director’s vision of the undead. I would even go so far as to say any Pride and Prejudice fans should see the film, because from what I recall, it mirrors the plot of Pride and Prejudice quite well. But don’t expect to see a horror movie, in the typical sense of the word, and don’t expect the film to blow your hair back. See it because the writer of the book and the creators of the film are trying to do something new with pop-culture norms, trying to merge the past and the present in a wonderfully anachronistic way. See it, because, more or less, the thought of Pride and Prejudice taking place in a zombie apocalypse is just too original, too interesting to ignore.