My notes on the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Seth Grahame-Smith strikes me as the literary equivalent of Troma – not funny, not scary, not half so clever as he thinks he is, dedicated to short measure and yet tiresomely persistent. The novel, billed as by Jane Austen and Graham-Smith, isn’t even a pastiche but a copying-out of the original book with rewritten sections to include zombies and (why not?) martial arts. The film has to work harder on its alternate 18th century history to establish an Austin era Britain with a severe zombie problem, but similarly suffers from the fact that it has barely the one joke to its name. A few moments suggest that someone is self-aware enough that the depiction of privileged aristos trying to make advantageous marriages while ignoring the near-invisible shambling hordes might be an indictment of Austen’s assumptions about class – but, in the end, seems to present zombies who are analogues of the lower orders (in one scene, Elizabeth wanders into the kitchen at a house party and finds all the servants have been zombified by an invasion of ‘orphans’) but also as vermin the nice people are quite justified in wiping out. It may be the most reactionary zombie movie of the post-NoLD era, which is saying something in that Romero’s original vision has so often been co-opted by gun-fetishist clods who just want something they can shoot.
P&P&Z – which never troubles to explain how its zombies are called that before the word was introduced into the English language let alone before the 1968 concept a zombie apocalypse took hold – has had a long, difficult path to the screen (Natalie Portman, once set to star, still has a producer credit – which must do her proud), probably because successive writers and directors (David O. Russell, once) were drawn to the funny idea then found out the material wasn’t that good. Writer-director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, remember) struggles even with the plot and lets too many threads dangle – early on, a zombie (Dolly Wells) seems about to say something important (yes, they speak) to Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) only for Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley) to blow its head off; the question of what the important thing was is never mentioned again. Lena Headey is set up as a major player, a one-eyed warrior with a shy daughter whose subplot is cruelly curtailed, but just sits on a chair for the second half. A cast of British stalwarts (Charles Dance, Sally Phillips, Lena Headey) and bright young posh things (Bella Heathcote, Douglas Waterhouse, Jack Huston, Ellie Bamber) go through bits of Austen between Blade-style swordfights which also feature Regency fetish-wear and Matt Smith flounders as Austen’s comedy relief parson (‘oh bugger’).
The script stirs in the Antichrist and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – potentially a funny jab at the way Austen treats the minor foibles of her villains as if they were Satanic Evil on a grand scale, but here just a way of keeping the plot going. Monty Python’s Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days – broadcast to an audience who were barely aware of Salad Days – was funny, but only at under three minutes … this struggles even to compete even with the likes of Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.
I can say one good thing about the book: it made me want to read the original.
I had a similar experience with Carmilla, in that I found myself reading a novella where the author copied whole passages verbatim from the original, and it felt awkward and wrong whenever new material was introduced.