I wanted more out of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Or less, much much less would have been fine too. The amount I got was entirely insufficient.
It’s a cute idea mashing up this drama about early 19th century romance, class, and all that comes with it with a zombie movie, but in an hour and 45 minutes it doesn’t get enough time to do either thing proper amounts of justice and so none of it seems to matter. Either this is a serious thing and it needed more time, space, and gravity; or this is a silly joke and it needed to be a 20-minute sketch on the Internet. As released, it seems insubstantial and empty.
I have no compelling reason to think what I really want is more of the manners drama. I don’t watch Downton Abbey, I haven’t read the book Pride and Prejudice, I don’t even really like watching BBC America for more than a couple hours at a time. The surface-level telling of this side of the story is about what I want. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies makes me think I could deliver a sixth grade book report on the original novel and be laughed out of any serious discussion. For example, I looked up the Wikipedia article on George Wickham to see how radically the character was changed for the zombified version of the story and practically couldn’t understand any of what it was talking about. It’s like getting the Cliff’s Notes version of the story and it’s hard not to feel a little bit cheated by that.
The zombie story also feels underdeveloped. The film starts with a good action beat and hits a few horror beats early on but then they mostly fade away. After this early burst of action the whole thing fades to the background. There’s an action beat in a cellar in the second act that I couldn’t make heads or tails of because there was no light, it never seemed like scaring me with zombies was even a remote priority until the third act.
There are gestures towards a larger plot, like when a zombie comes and talks to Elizabeth and tries to warn her of something before being blown away, and numerous allusions to the Four Horsemen of the Zombie Apocalypse, but nothing ever comes from either of these things. The Horsemen are glimpsed on screen twice but never interact with anyone. I suppose they serve to kind of underline the markings for a third act twist but this is such a dramatic device to have no direct payoff. I got the distinct sense that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was telling only the third best zombie story going on in this universe in this time period.
This is going to sound insincere after three paragraphs of being so intensely critical but Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t completely unsatisfying. It might be formed from two underdeveloped halves but there are compelling things about the whole. Seeing a zombie outbreak in a pre-modern society is a refreshing take on a done-to-death genre and simply seeing cannons and muskets being used to fight undead swarms has a certain charm to it after seeing a thousand shotguns. The juxtaposition of the prim and proper pre-Victorian England with the ruthlessness of a never-ending swarm of undead is quite funny (the first few times) and the some of the characters follow this path to the absurd conclusion to remarkable affect (Matt Smith and Lena Headey are particularly notable examples). I’m just not sure this is a punch line worthy of an entire movie. When I saw the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on the shelf of my local bookstore I thought nothing about reading it would be as amusing as looking at the image on the cover, and they adapted it in to a movie that by the end is struggling to be as compelling as the poster.