Film Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (15)
If the casual mention of the undead in the title of Burr Steers' horror comedy almost seems like an afterthought, the jarring on-screen presence of the flesh-hungry predators confirms it.
Adapted from Seth Grahame-Smith’s parody novel, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies puts a gruesome twist on Jane Austen’s period drama, transplanting the heaving bosoms and unspoken desire to a bodice-ripping 19th-century Britain where young women are skilled in swordplay as well as needlecraft.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains,” primly declares the film’s spunky heroine, Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), in her opening voiceover.
The two narrative strands - repressed desire and gore - are awkward bedfellows.
The film fizzes when Steers and his attractive cast play Austen’s vacillations of the heart straight, buoyed by simmering screen chemistry between James and Sam Riley as a suitably brooding Darcy.
However, every time reanimated corpses shuffle into view and sink their gnashers into one of the supporting cast, the ensuing bloodbath is a bore.
Mr Bennet (Charles Dance) teaches his five daughters Elizabeth (James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse) and Mary (Millie Brady) martial arts so they can survive in an era of marauding zombies.
The girls’ mother Mrs Bennet (Sally Phillips) is more concerned with finding them wealthy husbands.
The arrival of Mr Bingley (Douglas Booth) sends Mrs Bennet into a frenzy of excitement and she dispatches the girls to a ball with instructions to catch his eye.
Bingley is smitten with Jane, while Elizabeth meets her match in Bingley’s haughty friend, Darcy (Riley).
Bumbling Parson Collins (Matt Smith) also has his beady eye on Elizabeth, but she is resistant to his dubious charms.
The girls are crestfallen when Bingley and his entourage abandon leafy Hertfordshire for the safety of London, which is now a walled fortress.
Soon after, roguish soldier Mr Wickham (Jack Huston) arrives in the countryside and begins to poison Elizabeth against Darcy.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is a lacklustre genre mash-up.
Fight sequences unfold largely in slow motion to accentuate the swish of frocks as blades scythe through zombie flesh, but there’s a laughable absence of blood.
During an opening melee in which the Bennet sisters pirouette through a full-scale assault by the undead, there isn’t a single rivulet of blood or scrap of flesh on their pristine blades.
Diehard fans of gore will have to seek their thrills elsewhere - Steers keeps most of the violence off screen, opting to shoot from the perspective of zombies as they suffer grisly demises.
Dialogue gleefully distorts Austen’s lyrical prose.
“You are as unfeeling as the undead!” Elizabeth admonishes Darcy.
In some ways, so is Steers’ film.
Released: February 11 (UK & Ireland)