|'Steers attempts to make a movie half sincere period drama and half zombie horror, hoping that the comedy will emerge organically where the two meet'.|
As its title suggests, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is a genre mash-up based around one running gag. That gag - taking Jane Austen's novel and transporting it to an alternative version of the 18th Century where Britain is in a continuous battle with hordes of the undead - isn't writer and director Burr Steers' problem, but rather his uneven exploitation of it throughout.
Where he should have gone for all-out laughs through the sheer ludicrousness of his film's high concept, Steers instead attempts to make a movie half sincere period drama and half zombie horror, hoping that the comedy will emerge organically where the two meet. In fairness to him it does at times, just not often enough to make the whole thing work as satisfyingly as you'd like.
After a pair of opening sequences heavy on exposition but effective in establishing the right tone, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies loses its balance fairly early on. Steers allows the period drama elements to take over, with the undead making appearances too infrequently to have the desired impact. The problem is that, as an Austen adaptation of any variety, Steers' film is only ever adequate at best. Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is at its strongest when the zombies do turn up, helping to deliver several satisfyingly bloody horror and action sequences. It's just a shame that you'll too often find yourself wondering when they're going to show up again and wishing their appearances lasted a bit longer.
Steers' treatment of the smaller details is similarly frustrating. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) - an unflinching zombie hunter in this alternative Austen universe - is shown early on using a bottle of carrion flies to detect those attempting to hide the early stages of zombification, but the idea is forgotten about fairly quickly. The same can be said for an intriguing divide between the classes through where they receive combat training - "Japan for the wealthy, China for the wise" - which offers a couple of pleasing exchanges between characters during the opening act but is also disappointingly dropped by Steers beyond this.
In the end, it's largely down to the film's game cast that Pride And Prejudice And Zombies ends up as watchable as it does. Riley as Darcy and Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet provide a pleasing central pairing, leading a cast who play matters straight whilst maintaining an understanding that the story they're performing is utterly ridiculous. Which brings matters back to Steers' main problem: he should have made Pride And Prejudice And Zombies a comedy first and foremost, rather than allowing its period drama and zombie horror subgenres to battle it out to an enjoyable but too often underwhelming stalemate.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is released on UK Blu-ray, DVD and VOD on Monday 27th June 2016, and is already available on digital download.