This year’s Valentine rom-com mashes monsters with muslin: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is a two-hour saga set in zombie-torn Regency England. The cheerful English countryside swarms with the walking corpses of England’s noblest ancestors. No longer does Elizabeth Bennet sit daintily in a tea parlour and wait for a rich gentleman to whisk her away; instead, she hides daggers and muskets underneath flowing skirts and takes a break from her afternoon tea to slay every “unmentionable” in sight. A feisty heroine, a classic romance and the walking dead: a lethal formula, with disappointing results. The film is not popular amongst Austen fans and literary critics and for good reason. By necessity, reimaginings of films or literature alter characters beyond perception. They add lengthy backgrounds, justify unsavory characteristics, redeem villains and shade in gray areas. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does none of these. Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name was a parody of Pride and Prejudice, a creative, if rather ineffectual, experimentation of a beloved classic. The film tries to cast Grahame-Smith’s comical concept in a serious light and consequently reduces Austen’s complex characters to irritating caricatures of themselves. Nonetheless, the movie as a standalone remains an enjoyable romp through apocalyptic England, and although not a retelling worthy of Austen, serves as another creative experiment to satisfy the many morbid fantasies of Austen fans.
The film retains the most basic elements of the classic zombie movie, splattered with skeletons and exploding eyeballs. Darcy and Elizabeth hurl witticisms and bullets, Jane Bennet arrives at Netherfield drenched in rain and zombie guts, Wickham almost charms Elizabeth into creating an army of the undead, and Mr. Collins aims a gun at a zombie only to shoot Catherine de Bourgh in the face (well, at least we wish he had.) Placing Austen’s most beloved characters amidst zombies provokes understandably absurd reactions from the characters and even explains the motives behind the characters’ actions. Mrs. Bennet’s frantic plotting to get her daughters married before they become zombie fodder elicits sympathy from the audience, and conversely, Mr. Bennet’s neglect in instilling more propriety and sophistication in his daughters makes perfect sense in the apocalyptic context. After all, when a zombie can disrupt a ball and consume half the guests within five minutes, the arts of war should take precedence over the arts of seduction. Charlotte Lucas, possessing no combat skills, must marry Mr. Collins and receive the protection of Lady Catherine de Bourgh if she wishes to survive. Faced with a prospect of an early and gruesome death, even the minor characters have edges and a sharpness of personality lacking in Austen’s sleepy English countryside. They are darker and more digestible, and perhaps even more three-dimensional; sycophantic fawning turns into pleas for protection and betrayals into self-preservation.
The film places Jane Austen’s most beloved characters in absurd situations and provokes even more absurd reactions from the characters. For instance, when Mr. Darcy makes his infamous proposal, Lizzie fiercely attacks him–not just verbally but with her well-trained fists and feet. A sexually-charged combat between the two lovers ensues, as Austenites swoon over the scandalous breach of Regency protocol and Mr. Darcy’s taut biceps.
Photo courtesy of Screen Gems