Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is so devoid of artistic pretense or ambition that I feel as if I have to justify being angry at it. Come on! Look at the title, for heaven’s sake! Were you expecting it to be good? What were you expecting?
I wasn’t expecting anything in particular. But I was expecting it to be . . . something. A satire, maybe. A comedy. A riff or sideways examination of its subject matter.
But Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is none of these things. Its nearest analogue in recent film history is probably Snakes on a Plane. It is a single, pitch-ready joke title in a half-hearted search for a movie to attach to it. I half expected Samuel L. Jackson to show up in a cameo and pronounce that he was “sick of these blankety-blank zombies on this blankety-blank English estate!”
A title credits sequence sets up the premise and could be used as a textbook exhibit in the difference between world-building and exposition. We get some quick maps explaining what parts of England are overrun with zombies and which aren’t. (I’m still not sure I know.) We are told that that the rich study Japanese martial arts while the “wise” study the Chinese ways. The latter conceit shows some promise, though it isn’t really relevant to any other part of the movie except a scene where Lizzie reads The Art of War and sniffs indignantly at Caroline Bingley’s snobbishness.
In fact, the class-consciousness motif ends up being hopelessly muddled, one of several places where the source material and horror genre are at odds with each other. Horror is often thinly (or not-at-all) disguised metaphor for social and cultural anxieties. Frankenstein is about technological advances outstripping moral and political constraints. Dracula has an openly xenophobic subtext—the Eastern European immigrant threatens to pollute the English bloodstream. The Island of Dr. Moreau plays on fears of degeneration brought about by the popularization of Darwinian evolutionary theory.
There’s nothing particularly shocking nor innovative, then, about having the zombies represent the underclass—except that doing so forces the “heroes” into the role of the sequestered rich who would rather kill the poor than redistribute the wealth. Heroes in war movies are usually thought to be protecting our way of life, but the lavish wealth of Bingley and Darcy suggest the war is about preserving privilege, not fighting for equality.
About halfway through the film, Wickham takes Lizzie to a church where he shows her that some zombies are capable of self-restraint. They feed on pigs’ brains in order to arrest the zombieficaiton process. He argues—quite logically, it seems to me—that the mathematical proliferation of the zombie population makes traditional armed conflict futile. Should they not try to make peace with the more moderate zombie elements? (Now they are a metaphorical stand-in for terrorist states? Or third-world cultures with runaway population growth?)
Anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice knows Wickham is not what he seems, so it’s easy to dismiss his arguments as insincere. But does that make them wrong? And isn’t the whole point of demonizing an enemy—literally or figuratively—so that one can cheer his destruction unreservedly? When we are told that one group of zombies came from an overrun home for widows and orphans, it was hard for me to not conclude that these poor people got the same raw deal in death that they did in life.