In some ways, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ disappointing opening weekend box office take doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. A little too left-of-centre to appeal to many fans of the book and arguably equally as unpalatable on paper to some horror fans, the film’s appeal always had the potential to be a little limited. However, those who do seek this one out could do much worse, as it’s a bombastically entertaining effort that works best when it’s running at breakneck speed, and is far from the disaster many predicted it would be.
The film does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: an (almost) faithful re-telling of Jane Austen’s novel, with the plot creatively tweaked just enough to re-cast the story against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse.
So a few minor adjustments, then.
The opening sequence sets a suitably chaotic tone, with the re-imagined Colonel Darcy (Control’s Sam Riley) arriving at a manor house in the English countryside to investigate whether the zombie epidemic has spread to the family living there. The scene offers the first of several examples of obvious straining for a 15 certificate – some visual punches are pulled. This shying away from the gore-hound money-shot leaves some of the action feeling a little neutered, especially when the zombies themselves are so convincingly rendered.
That being said, PAPAZ balances its disparate elements of comedy and horror pretty well for the most part. The moments that are played for laughs (like Lily James’ Elizabeth calmly explaining that the Bennett sisters learned their anti-zombie combat in a Shaolin temple) are pulled off convincingly, but the tone never goes so dramatically askew that the threat of a zombie attack feels anything less than intimidating. Elsewhere, the fight sequences are neatly directed and slickly choreographed, and performances are mostly solid, with Lily James, Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston and a brilliantly caricaturish Matt Smith having a particularly good time with the material.
While it suffers inescapably from a bloated and occasionally leaden second act, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, against all odds, mostly works. With a post-credit stinger ambitiously leaving the door open for a sequel, the chances of that are dubious, but in the meantime, what we have here is an endearingly bloody and sometimes riotous horror comedy that is at best a solid entry into the oversaturated zombie canon, and at worst a watchable, eccentric distraction.