Fans of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter — okay, there are no fans of that 2012 cinematic fizzle — are bound to be intrigued by what writer-director Burr Steers (his Igby Goes Down still resonates with me) has done to put the bite on Jane Austen. You can’t accuse Pride and Prejudice and Zombies of false advertising since it totally lives up to the one-joke punch of its title. Did I mention that novelist Seth Grahame-Smith wrote both of the bestsellers that these films are based on?
Ready to co-opt the text of Austen’s 1813 novel at will (public domain and all that), Steers steers his gorgeously garbed ladies and gentlemen of 19th-century England onto what looks like the set of The Walking Dead. Don’t get your hopes up. PP&Z is rated PG-13, so the gore is decidedly decorous. But before repetition dulls the party, Pride gets in a few juicy innings. If you enjoyed the lovely Lily James in Downtown Abbey and Cinderella (I sure did), you’ll be pleased to see her here as Elizabeth, the most headstrong and independent of the poor but marriageable Bennet sisters. Elizabeth still has it in for the snobbish Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), but he’s an ace zombie hunter and that comes in handy in any century. The movie begins with a naked Darcy being examined for zombie bites by a geezer who practically slobbers over his “pristine young body.” Wait, what? And the camera all but licks Douglas Booth, playing a smoothie who courts Elizabeth’s sister Jane (Bella Heathcoate). What’s a girl to do? If you’re one of the Bennet sisters, you clean your rifle, grab a samurai sword and make good use of the martial arts you learned in China. Mission: to waste these brain-munching ghouls.
It’s utter nonsense. But James and Riley give it their all. Ditto Lena Headey as Darcy’s warrior aunt and Headey’s Game of Thrones daddy Charles Dance as the harried patriarch of the Bennet clan. Matt Smith (Doctor Who) overacts everyone in sight as a godawful parson asking for Elizabeth’s hand. But its human brains the zombies want. Somehow they can’t come back to life until they’ve dined on grey matter. Funny? Sometimes. Scary? Almost never. PP&Z spins merrily and menacingly along for about half an hour. Bad luck that the movie’s running time is 107 minutes.