One of the best stories in the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is how '80s schlockmeister supreme Yoram Globus would go to film market events with a stack of posters for theoretical films that hadn't yet been made. If he could presell the European distribution rights to a movie called American Ninja, then he would make a movie about an American guy who was a ninja. Something similar seems to have happened with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which started life as a 2009 stunt mashup novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, the mastermind who brought us Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The combination of public domain intellectual property with the age's favorite monster briefly caught the internet zeitgeist back in 2009, and now that the book has been thoroughly forgotten, the movie it inspired hits theaters in the doldrums of Feburary. You gotta hand it to a title devious enough to part foolish investors from their money in multiple media. I have seen the future, and it is Snakes on a Plane for everyone!
As the British say, it does what it says on the tin. You've got Liz Bennet (Lily James), the smartest of the five sisters, fighting off suitors who can't respect her free will. Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston), who you think is good but who turns out to be bad, and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) who you think is bad but turns out to be good. The members of the aristocratic love triangle court furtively while scything through hoards of undead English peasants unleashed when the zombie virus migrated from the New World.
I'll hand it to director Burr Steers: He got the tone just right. When it comes to seriousness, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is somewhere in the neighborhood of the 1966 Batman TV series. Former Doctor Who Matt Smith steals the picture as the clueless, but pious Parson Collins, serving up massive slabs of ham like he worked at the Blue Plate. Also in on the joke is Game of Thrones Lena Headey as the one-eyed Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the richest woman in England who leads the resistance in a final battle against the "ravenous unmentionables." The script gets a lot of mileage out of creatively mangling Austen's prose with lines like "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains is looking for more brains." Verbal sparring between Liz and Darcy is accented with spin kicks, because proper ladies in post-zombie England are naturally trained in kung fu finishing schools. The women fight the undead with sword and musketry, and mankind with heaving bosoms and flaring nostrils.
It's all in good fun, and I suppose there's a feminist reading of this bizarre concoction. But it's nothing Buffy the Vampire Slayer didn't do much better in 1999 or so. Ultimately, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies fails to justify its own existence. It is a shambling mound of undead intellectual property grimly stomping its way through the world, devouring all dumb money in its path. Surely, the next step is a video game, where you can play as a zombie, or Darcy's horse. Doesn't that sound fun? Don't answer, just look at the poster.