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Film review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t nearly scary enough

Schlock horror mash-up of Jane Austen classic relies too much on humour and gratuitous cleavage and stocking shots

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 6:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 6:01am

Seth Grahame-Smith ushered in a stream of high-concept literary mash-ups with his 2009 novel Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, which has since spawned such diverse publications as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Kanye West: Reanimator, all seemingly tailor-made for schlocky big screen adaptations.

Originally developed for Oscar winners Natalie Portman and David O. Russell, the film finally arrives with the more modestly talented Burr Steers (17 Again) at the helm. Portman retains a producer credit as Lily James ( Cinderella ) steps into the lead role of Elizabeth Bennett, the second of five sisters being pressured into marriage so as not to lose their idyllic country home.

While events unfold much as they do in Jane Austen’s Edwardian classic – with Elizabeth and the gruff Mr Darcy (Sam Riley) butting heads before inevitably falling in love – this incarnation depicts Longbourn as a community overrun by an undead epidemic.

READ MORE: ‘We must have killed 100 zombies’: Lily James nails it in Pride and Prejudice update

The most successful new element is not the insertion of marauding zombie hordes, but rather the status-affirming combat training all adolescents must undergo once they come of age, specifically “Japan for the wealthy, China for the wise”. As a result, the Bennetts are a family of competent, corseted Amazons, in little need of chivalry to keep them alive.

Unfortunately, the decision to employ the zombies for laughs rather than scares means there’s little opportunity for James, Riley et al to do much with the material presented. Only Matt Smith (Doctor Who) stands out, as a lily-livered Parson Collins.

As a subverted period piece, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies actually fairs better, frequently upending stuffy social rituals with bloody mayhem. But too often, Steers would rather flash a stockinged leg or plunging cleavage to quicken our pulses, where a few quality scares would have been infinity more rewarding.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies opens on March 10

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