It is the eighteenth century, and Great Britain has been afflicted by a plague of zombies emanating from the London area. There has been a canal dug to keep the menace contained, with one solitary bridge to get from the capital to the outside world, and the undead trapped in a zone between the city and the surrounding countryside, but there are feelings this may not last forever and a proper plan has to be set in place. After all, the outbreak is spreading from the quarantine region to the Home Counties which is where the Bennet family reside, all five of the daughters having been trained in martial arts in China to defend themselves against any attacks. The elder sister is Elizabeth (Lily James), and she has resolved to be extremely picky - about her choice of husband.
The novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies married together a literary classic of hundreds of years ago to what was in the twenty-first century a very current obsession, that the world was going to hell in a handbasket and the most blatant way to depict that was to characterise the general public as murderous zombies, such was the lack of faith the ordinary citizen now had in their fellow humans. But there were two rather older devices at work here, both musical, first the punk aesthetic of the nineteen-seventies where taking Jane Austen and riddling her work with violence and horror was the equivalent of the Sex Pistols' single cover for God Save the Queen: imagine, if you will, a safety pin through Miss Austen's nose. And second, the hip-hop style of sampling tunes to create something new.
In this case, it was a sampling of extracts from the source novel, sticking fairly close to the basic plot, and mashing it up with the George A. Romero undead bloodshed so that the rather prim-seeming original was given a brutal makeover with the characters setting about chopping zombies to bits and blowing their heads off with muskets rather than fretting over their love lives and status in society. Predictably, the results as far as the film adaptation went were more successful as a horror flick than they were an Austen adaptation, with the conceit twisting the Bennet sisters' personalities so far as to make them the killing machines we had become familiar with ever since Keanu Reeves brought kung fu to the mainstream blockbuster action sequence way back in The Matrix, about twenty years before this.
This acknowledgement that every character in a fantastical movie was going to break out the mad fight skillz eventually, whether it suited the material or not, had become increasingly prevalent and by this time seeing it here was as much of a cliché as the walking dead were. There was even a sequence where Elizabeth and her hot and cold romance with Mr Darcy (Sam Riley, sounding like John Hurt) had led to them beating each other up in an elaborate combat after she got the wrong end of the stick about him interfering with the relationship of her sister Jane (Bella Heathcote), which even in an improbable setting such as this would have surely proved a deal breaker for any future prospects of getting together at the end. And yet there they were, illustrating the path of true love not running smooth.
Surprisingly, although there were humorous elements Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was not a comedy, it played its romance and horror alike pretty straight. What jokes there were ended up given to Matt Smith as Parson Collins, and he proved a bright spot with his wordplay, so much so that you would think he would make a perfect performer for a proper costume drama. Everyone else was lumbered with some characterisations largely drawn from stock, whether that was the Austen influence in adaptations or a lack of imagination was up to the viewer to decide, and it was not nearly as gory as it could have been, as if the production was reluctant to alienate the fans of the book by appealing more to fans of the zombies. But for all of that rather safe settling for allowing the title to do all the work for them, this could have been worse, and the Hong Kong influence appealed to the sort of historical manner of martial arts movie that region of the world had been making for years, often with similarly idiosyncratic combinations. The notion of contemporary horror tropes set in the past was a good one, and that was almost enough to see this through. Music by Fernando Velázquez.
[Lionsgate's Blu-ray has a gag reel, deleted scenes and five featurettes with various interviews with cast and crew as extras.]