Enjoy this one because it might be as close as I get to reviewing a Halloween-esque movie. Or perhaps I should call it in the ballpark of Halloween? Halloween-ish? Anyway, the undead always seem to be more popular around this time, and they are about the only part of the horror genre I will watch, if any, most of the time. It is because of this tolerance for, ahem, the walking dead that I originally read the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith. In case you are wondering, I have never read Jane Austen’s classic novel, sans the zombies. Hopefully, you did not need that reminder that the original lacked corpses rising from the grave. What I cannot remember, however, is much about the modern-horror take. I did recall some things while watching the movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), but not enough to say whether it was faithful to the source material. What is great about that last statement is that it is spoken in earnest, and it also works as a literary joke. At any rate, I had fun with both of them.
In case you do not know your Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies reminds you that it is set in early nineteenth century England. I wonder how many people were confused at the beginning when we did not see our classic heroine Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), or any of the other Bennet sisters? Instead, we are first introduced to her foil, Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley), henceforth Mr. Darcy. I would wonder still why anyone could be upset with such a start given how radical a departure is this adaptation? Anyway, there is a plague in England, the likes of which turns those who have recently died, or have been bitten by the same, into zombies. Mr. Darcy’s job is to go about the newly re-established estates in the wake of the near aversion of the apocalypse and make sure the menace stays in check. Other families take different measures, and this brings us to the Bennets. In this new, er, England, protecting oneself has become a priority. Those who are rich send their children to Japan for martial arts training, but the wise are sent to China. That is where the Bennet sisters obtained their combat skills, studying with the Shaolin, which was Mr. Bennet’s (Charles Dance) fervent wish. I was quite geeked by this, but I digress. They spend their days honing their skills, much to the displeasure of their mother, Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips), who wants to see them all married and forgetting about swords. This desire gets a boost when they learn that one of the most eligible, and richest, bachelors in what is left of England, Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), has opened up his country manor. At the subsequent ball, Jane Bennet (Bella Heathcote), the eldest of the sisters, catches Mr. Bingley’s eye. They are not the only ones doing the eye-catching, for Mr. Darcy is quite taken with Elizabeth. The problem, though, is that Elizabeth has heard nothing good about Mr. Darcy, and his manners are not what you would call suave. On the plus side, he does save her from a zombie attack, but this only incenses her further as she feels she can take care of herself. In such a world as they now live, she is not eager to give up her sword. This is why she next refuses the proposal of their cousin, Parson William Collins (Matt Smith), even though doing so could mean that the Bennet estate of Longbourn would leave their family. In the process of Parson Collins attempting to woo Elizabeth, she is introduced Lieutenant George Wickham (Jack Huston). As a military officer, he is much more interesting to her. She is further intrigued when shortly after they first meet, Mr. Darcy rides past scowling at Lieutenant Wickham. According to Lieutenant Wickham, the Darcy family had cheated the Wickhams out of an inheritance. Elizabeth’s low opinion of Mr. Darcy’s is lowered further when she discovers that it is this same person that convinced Mr. Bingley to spurn Jane’s affections and leave abruptly for London. Still, there is something off about Lieutenant Wickham. One day he happens upon Elizabeth and takes her to a secret place he had discovered. This location is St. Lazarus Church, and there zombies are congregating, eating pigs’ brains to satiate their appetite for the human version. He claims that this is a solution to the zombie problem, though she remains unconvinced. Meanwhile, she has misjudged Mr. Darcy. Through observing her character, not to mention her battle savvy, he has come to love her. He also does not know what she has come to believe about him. Thus, he is surprised when he asks her to marry him, and she says that he is the last person on Earth she would wed. In the midst of the resulting brawl, Mr. Darcy reveals that comments he overheard from Mrs. Bennet’s about wanting her daughters to marry into riches is the reason he told Mr. Bingley to leave. A later letter fills Elizabeth in on what happened with Lieutenant Wickham, and it is because he had killed Mr. Darcy’s father. Lieutenant Wickham turns out to be a bigger boogeyman. He is leading the zombies in an attempt to finish off what remains of the human population, and has run off with the youngest of the Bennet sisters Lydia (Ellie Bamber). Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy go after Lydia, and while dueling with Mr. Darcy it comes out that Lieutenant Wickham is also a member of the undead. Elizabeth saves Mr. Darcy, and together they make it back to human lines just in time for a bridge to be blown up, cutting off the two sides in this struggle. We think we end on a happy note with a joint wedding between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, and Mr. Bingley and Jane, but a post-credits scene reveals a large horde of the undead coming to crash the party.
In case you have ever wondered about the meaning behind a title like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (well, about the “pride and prejudice” part, anyway), it refers to the stratification of early nineteenth century. Wrapped in a package like this one, that takes on a different meaning. Briefly, as mentioned before, the rich kids go to Japan, but the wise go to China. That is how Mr. Bennet puts it. Everyone has their pride, and that informs their prejudice. For example, Elizabeth does not take perceived slights lightly, while Mr. Darcy has a haughtiness born of his lofty station. He was trained in Japan, after all. Whether this movie (or book) throws in the undead for fun, I appreciate the fact that it does incorporate the religious aspect of society in that day and age. It is not all good, of course. On the plus side if Jane kneeling to pray over a zombie she slays. On the negative is the ridiculous way in which Parson Collins is portrayed, although that probably serves a different purpose in the original novel. What irks this Catholic the most is the discussion of the apocalypse. It makes sense, in a limited way, that if such a thing as the dead rising from the grave were to happen, it would induce a populace well-versed in the Bible to make comparisons to the end times as discussed in the Book of Revelation. What you will not find there is anything having to do with zombies. Nobody seems to think about this when it comes to these kinds of movies. They doubled down with the Scriptural inaccuracies by throwing in the so-called Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are there to be found in Revelation 6:1-8 if you want the actual description. They are meant to symbolize the different ways in which our world will cease. While it also says in that same book that at this time the dead will rise, they will not be eating the brains of the living. Nor are the horsemen involved in such nonsense. To be fair, as I said, this all fits with the thinking of the period during which the film takes place. I just bristle at linking the Bible to zombies.
It was nice to see Lily James in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but a shame that the movie flopped. One thing I recall about reading the book is that I thought it would make a good movie. In the intervening years between the book and the film, I would occasionally monitor the internet for some indication that production had started. When it did, I got excited, but then it did not receive a wide theatrical release. Shucks. Either way, if you are looking for something for the season that is not grotesque for grotesqueness’ sake, then watch this one.