Pride and Prejudice and Zombies produces the expected reaction to a parody attempting to be a serious movie: confusion. As suggested by the title, director and screenwriter Burr Steers attempts to mash together the early 19th century Jane Austen classic and the popular apocalyptic genre of the present. Though there are some successful moments of combination, the bulk of the scenes exist as two separate storylines with occasional intersection to varying degrees of success.
The first few scenes in the film provide some surprises before the novelty of this new genre wears off. The warrior daughters are a particularly enjoyable development and a nod to the feminist culture of the time the movie was made. However, the history of the world this Bennet family lives in remains sadly underdeveloped and unexplained to the viewing audience. There are hints of a past; the references to Japanese versus Chinese training in passing conversation between the Bennet sisters alludes to a minor conflict of philosophy that is never fully developed.
The perception and knowledge of zombies also stays underdeveloped throughout the film. Most zombie films at least give an origin story to the virus or outbreak. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies starts to give details of how the world got its current state, but quickly changes its mind and goes the route of alluding to past events and knowledge the audience does not understand. The film would benefit from stronger development on these fronts and in giving the audience background knowledge to better understand the film as a whole. A simple fix would be opening with a text crawl to give all of the background that is different from Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice.
Another memorable surprise early in the film comes from Mr. Darcy. His voice is grating, rather monotone and initially difficult to understand. This is a surprising character choice since the actor, Sam Riley, has been in other well-known films like Maleficent and Control and won awards for his performances. Granted, Mr. Darcy is written as an odd crossover between a gritty warrior and gentleman of the Georgian era, a combination that one would imagine is quite difficult to portray. The other characters have similarly difficult genre crossover that they must reconcile, but Darcy’s is the least successful on screen.
The film itself felt disjointed and often as if there were two separate storylines playing out next to each other. The scenes without zombie conflict had an almost dreamlike quality to them, were brightly lit and often filled with pastel shades. These sequences in particular felt out of place next to the dark and bloody battles plaguing the rest of the film.
The battles that occupy the rest of the almost two hour film have their own problems. Many of the scenes involving battles with multiple main characters are done in slow motion and come off as tacky or overdone. However, the fight choreography is believable and well done despite the period clothing that could pose challenges. The novelty of seeing men and women in early 19th century garb go head to head with zombies also slightly offsets the overuse of the slow-motion battle sequences. Other complaints with the battles include implausible timelines, like traveling hundreds of miles in less than a day on horseback, inconsistencies in villain characteristics, and ambiguous locations that do not lend themselves to credible character interactions.
Between the strange jumps from early 19th century culture to apocalyptic doom, poorly constructed plot and background and disconnected stories, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does not give crossover genres a good name. It feels at times like a poorly done parody reminiscent of films like Vampires Suck. Perhaps a larger budget or a different approach would have done the film some good, though it is unclear whether the concept was ever a good one.