PrideandPrejudiceandZombiescoverGrade: B-/C+
Entire family: No
2016, 107 min., Color
Sony Pictures
Rated PG-13 for zombie violence, action and brief suggestive content
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Amazon link

While watching Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, our college freshman groused that you can’t introduce the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and then not do much with it. “D for dumb” was the grade he said he’d give the film. Our teenage daughter, who’s more the target audience, said she thought it was a B but admitted it wasn’t as good as she had hoped. My wife, a big Jane Austen fan, agreed. She liked that, minus the zombie sequences, the historical drama stayed fairly close to the book, but she didn’t think this particular Darcy (Sam Riley) charismatic enough to sell the romantic angle. As for me, I found myself less impressed by this variation on a theme than I was by the Bollywood version, Bride & Prejudice.

If Pride and Prejudice and Zombies disappoints—and my family wasn’t alone, given that only 42 percent of Rotten Tomatometer critics liked the film—let me suggest one main reason why. It’s a romance and it’s an action-horror film, and sometimes one genre gets in the way of the other. The concept works against itself.

PrideandPrejudiceandZombiesscreen1Though the zombie premise is woven into the plot, the actual insertion of zombie scenes can sometimes feel inorganic or heavy-handed. Hearing myself say that I have to chuckle: of course when you insert battles with zombies they’re going to be jarringly head-snapping (sometimes quite literally). But it does take away from any romantic simmer, and the dramatic, romantic interludes are just enough to make people squirm and wish for more zombie action. I think my daughter nailed it when she said the characters and the historical treatment were good, but the writers could have done more with the plot and included more action. As much as she loves romance, she’s a fan of shows like Supernatural, and the action-violence in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is both tame and minimal by comparison. Disappointing, in other words.

The novel by Seth Grahame-Smith was a parody, but the comic elements seem diminished in this film adaptation from director Burr Steers. In it, Darcy is like a 19th-century version of Homeland Security. In the opening scene, he visits a rich family to expose a rumored, recently infected zombie that, if unchecked, might start another mass outbreak. Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet (the incomparable Charles Dance) sends his daughters to China to learn martial arts and better defend themselves against those pesky zombies, who seem to have no social graces—turning horseback rides and elegant balls into tests of survival.

PrideandPrejudiceandZombiesscreen2You’ll probably need to watch this film several times to grasp an appreciation of the IZS (Integrated Zombie Structure), which includes a trip to the In-Between zone outside of walled London in which zombies feed on pig brains and are somehow kept from going completely savage. Ala Austen there are proposals and good and bad manners. The handsome Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) is here, of course, as is Parson Collins (Matt Smith), himself a suitor who indeed “settles” after being turned down by his first choice. And a soldier named Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston) turns up with a story about Mr. Darcy that he’s reluctant (but dying) to tell. And in this version, Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine, is a famous zombie killer who wears an eye patch and seems resistant to any idea of a brokered peace with zombies that haven’t gone savage. Got that?

As the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, Lily James (Cinderella) charms not only all the suitors but teenage girls who will recognize in her that rare combination of natural behavior and poise. Without her, this film would languish a lot more in the IZS.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies took in a worldwide gross of just $16 million against a reported $28 million production budget, despite plenty of advertising and social media buzz. It could be that Austen fans expect romance to be at the core of this classic, no matter what the permutation, and zombies ate away a little too much of that chest-heaving unrequited love.

Language: n/a
Sex: Apart from heaving bosoms (a Victorian trope), there’s one instance where a man and woman tear at each other’s clothes
Violence: A woman’s head is shot off, heads explode, a man’s hand is slashed off, people are stabbed, and there’s plenty of other zombie violence
Adult situations: Lots of pus and decomposing flesh and lots of wine-drinking, once to intoxication
Takeaway: Could have been funnier, could have been more romantic, and could have had more zombie action to satisfy those with a craving . . . .