No genre is more empowering to women than that of horror. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the genre mashup, Pride + Prejudice + Zombies. Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, which took the 1813 novel by Jane Austen and made it a whole lot more interesting by adding zombies, this film puts an exclamation point on a period piece examining early 19th century British society.
“I shall never relinquish my sword for a ring.”
When the movie begins, we are already in the midst of the zombie infestation plaguing Britain. We learn that once infected, a person can remain relatively undetected until they first feed on human brains. It is at that point that the zombification process begins to take hold, and it accelerates after each succeeding kill. To combat this outbreak, everyone must be able to fight, women included, at least until they are married, as a woman is either highly trained or highly refined. Among these warrior women are the five daughters of Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance, Alien 3, Underworld: Awakening), who has made sure they are among the best trained in the art of weaponry and martial arts. While his wife wants their daughters married off, he would prefer they stick to fighting, an approach embraced by his feisty daughter, Elizabeth (Lily James, Wrath of the Titans, Cinderella). With suitors and zombies everywhere, the girls must choose which path is best for them, as Britain struggles to keep the epidemic at bay.
“Merciful God, this cannot be.”
There are a lot of cool things going on in Pride + Prejudice + Zombies, not the least of which is seeing beautiful, well-dressed women adorning their apparel of garter belts and corsets with knives and other weapons before slicing, chopping and bashing the heads of the undead. There is plenty of action, though the zombie killing does take a back seat to the drama and romance for a spell in the latter half of the film. Credit director Burr Steers and the characters themselves that the film still manages to stay compelling in between the carnage. The F/X are excellent and horrific as well, despite the PG-13 rating, and really excel when it comes to depicting rotting faces with protruding jawbones and the like. The actual science of zombies is also made interesting. Besides the stages mentioned earlier, an ingenious way of rooting out zombies is shown where carrier flies are employed to detect dead flesh. A fascinating point is made in explaining what people are up against when fighting such a pandemic when you realize that a human baby takes nine months to gestate and another sixteen years to train to be a soldier, while a zombie is created in nothing but a second. How do you possibly combat such odds?
The cast is commendable in spouting sophisticated dialogue one minute, and decapitating zombies the next. Lily James is a strong lead as Elizabeth, and can take her place besides Alice, Selene and even Ripley, as ass-kicking heroines. The cast also includes Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows) as her sister, Jane, Lena Heady (Game of Thrones, Sarah Conner Chronicles) as Lady Catherine, and as the potential suitors, Sam Riley (Maleficent), Douglas Booth (Noah), Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) and Matt Smith (Doctor Who). The eleventh doctor provides some comical relief as the bumbling, annoying Mr. Collins.
Pride + Prejudice + Zombies may be one of the best examples yet for young women who are looking for strong role models in film. While horror movies often provide the best showcases for women who take charge when up against unspeakable terrors, it’s rare to find a whole clan of weapon-wielding warriors in any type of film. We’ll see if horror in 2016 will continue to offer audiences women who don’t need to rely on the men to save the day, but can take care of business plenty well on their own.
— review by Brian de Castro