Starring: Lily James, Sam Reily, Matt Smith
Directed by: Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”)
Written by: Burr Steers (“How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days”)
I don’t like zombies. I don’t get the zombie craze. I’m not a fan of “The Walking Dead,” I don’t understand why people are legitimately afraid of the zombie apocalypse, and so on. I gave the craze a fair shake in 2009, mind you, when I checked in on the burgeoning zombie zeitgeist by reading the Seth Grahame-Smith/Jane Austen mash-up novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” on which the long-delayed movie is based. When I set the book down, I shrugged. I had smiled at some clever moments, but the story as a whole never grabbed me, too beholden to Austen’s original text (which it seems makes up about 85 percent of the novel) to get as truly unhinged as the logline hints at. Seven years and numerous behind-the-scenes changes later, the film has finally arrived, suffering from the same problems as the source material.
In 19th century England, the Bennet sisters, led by headstrong Elizabeth (Lily James of last year’s live-action “Cinderella”), navigate the prim and proper social scene, looking for husbands while also using their expert martial arts skills to ward off hordes of the undead zombies that have Britain under siege. The arrival of dashing Mr. Darcy (Sam Reily), he himself a proficient zombie killer and the model of upper class prejudice, frustrates Elizabeth as they, of course, end up falling in love. Only this time there are zombies and stuff.
With dullness settling over the whole movie like an English fog, “PPZ” only springs to life all too infrequently. A particular bright spot is “Doctor Who’s” Matt Smith as the Bennet sisters’ cousin and suitor. Effeminate and persnickety, Smith’s Parson Collins lights up the drabness that overtakes what should have been a somewhat batshit romp through classic literature peppered with armies of the undead, sort of an “Army of Darkness” for women. Instead, though, nothing ever really gels and the digitally-muted CGI violence never engages like it should. The Bennet sisters are interchangeable in their badassery, and Darcy and Bingley (Douglas Booth) are blandly beautiful Brits with luscious lips and permanent stubble. Yawn. The movie even wastes the two “Game of Thrones” ringers in the cast by stranding Charles Dance as the Bennet sisters’ benevolent father and Lena Headey as one-eyed zombie-hunting dowager who essentially does nothing. What ends up on the screen ultimately isn’t funny enough, scary enough, thrilling enough, or fun enough. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” won’t put an axe through the brain of the genre, but it may signal we’re approaching the end of this epidemic.