One thing is for certain: no one can accuse director Burr Steers’s off-kilter version of novelist Jane Austen’s lyrical literary landscape **Pride and Prejudice** as being deemed solely melancholy and manipulative. The challenge of presenting a sophisticated and sudsy exposition while incorporating the ghoulish gimmicky of zombies to elevate the surrealism and cynicism of the British-based costume drama is an ambitious taking to say the least. Thankfully, Steers delivers a halfway decent piercing period piece that accentuates both the elegance and eeriness of Austen’s blossomed universe of early 19th century English femininity dripping with refined defiance and desire. Hence, Steers’s somewhat choppy but inspired **Pride and Prejudice and Zombies** provides an imaginative and slightly insane spin on the austere exuberance of Austen’s classic romancer highlighted with the butt-kicking antics of the bombastic Bennett sisters.
There is no doubt that movie and television audiences throughout the years have been subjected to the omnipresence of the Jane Austen Experience through countless interpretations of her treasured **Pride and Prejudice** artistic works. For the most part, the radiance of Pride and Prejudice has always maintained its ravishing romanticism in the various incarnations showcased. However, Steers looks to promote a bloody-thirsty blueprint and enhance the urgent sense of Austen’s femme fatale movement–in this case unite the Bennett brood and arm them with the alertness of sinister-made sisterhood. Instinctively, the premise for **Pride and Prejudice and Zombies** gives off a bizarre but refreshing vibe when distributing its wacky brand of subversive feminine liberation.
Austen heroine Elizabeth Bennett has always been possessed in her personalized convictions especially when it came to love and stability. Nevertheless, **Zombies’** Liz (Lily James) has a mission in mind that does not necessarily involve finding that ideal suitor of choice. In this case, Elizabeth and her sisters Jane, Mary, Kitty and Lydia (Bella Heathcoate, Mille Brasy, Suki Waterhouse and Ellie Bamber) are the sisterly slayers trained to eradicate the unwanted walking dead. The Bennett beauties, all skilled at exceptional swordplay courtesy of intensified training in China, are looked down upon within their elite social circles. Furthermore, the concern over the feisty Elizabeth and her siblings finding their soulmates rests on the shoulders of their worrisome parents Mr. and Mrs. Bennett (Charles Dance and Sally Phillips). What is to become of the vast Bennett estate should their offspring not find the eligible companions to continue the bloodline? The question remains: will the bashing Bennett babes go down in family history as courageous zombie huntresses or suffer the societal humiliation as available spinsters untouched?
Elizabeth’s preference is to be vigilant in her quest to zap out the zombie presence whenever possible as opposed to obsessing over whether she will hook the grand love of her life. Still, the very idea of meeting Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley) at one of the festive balls may have at least humbled the combative Elizabeth a bit and had her entertain the notion of embracing a romantic feeling. Unfortunately duty calls and the agenda for terminating the pesky zombies as they invade the region is the top priority for Bennett brigade.
Actually, **Pride and Prejudice and Zombies** is a frenetic fable that solidly works because it is able to competently marry two ubiquitous genres–zombie B-movies with prim and proper Austen period piece adaptations–and come up with a quirky and contentious commentary on female-oriented resistance and rage. Steers rips into the convention of womanhood wonderment with a horror flick romancer that has its sheer of nuanced nerve and chilly-minded charm. The gory shenanigans and showy execution of Zombies’ cinematic makeup from Remy Adefarasin’s luscious cinematography to David Warren’s production design and Julian Day’s costume designs all mesh with noted symmetry. The balance of wit, suspense, terror and tirade as the Bennett bunch and their suitors engage in swagger as they eliminate the detestable zombies feels delectable in manufactured naughtiness.
The performances are steady and give substance to the welcomed wackiness that uncannily defines this effectively compelling but twisted treat to Austen’s pretty protagonists dressed up in gorgeous gowns that conceal their blood-laced daggers. As the lead Bennett sister, James is rather engrossing as the impulsive sword-swinging sass as her unique spin on Austen’s curly-haired creation is as credible and creative as say Keira Knightley’s stamp on the Elizabeth Bennett role. Although rollicking in a zombie B-movie without relying too much on the crutch of high stakes camp, James and her supporting players are quite poised to go with the flow based on what the unpredictable material hands them.
The bottom line is that **Pride and Prejudice and Zombies** is a serviceable spectacle that dares to weave a Victorian-cultured social class romance yarn with an undead creepfest while finding a common ground in the hidden psyche of the young woman’s destined determination for self-discovery. Perhaps introducing the less literate crowd to Jane Austen’s brand of high class sensibilities through the battling Bennetts during the onslaught of an English countryside zombie invasion would make other future **Pride and Prejudice** installments feel more renewed and receptive.
**Pride and Prejudice and Zombies** (2016)
1 hr, 49 mins.
Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcoate, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance, Sally Phillips, Suki Waterhouse, Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady
Directed by: Burr Steers
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Horror and Fantasy’Romance and Suspense
Critic’s rating: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2016