Today’s world feels overstuffed with zombie entertainment, but, gentle people, it was far worse in 19th-century England, when the land was overrun with actual zombies. So it is in Burr Steers’ adaptation of the 2009 parodic novel, which inserted a zombie subplot into the original text of Jane Austen’s comedy of manners. As a film, it’s still amusing, though likely to resonate better with Team Austen than Team Undead: Familiarity with Pride and Prejudice is helpful, and the PG-13 film doesn’t deliver the gory mayhem contemporary zombie enthusiasts demand.
The main plot is still the travails of the Bennett sisters as they seek husbands, in particular the lively Lizzie’s courtship with haughty Darcy, here upgraded to a famed zombie detector and killer. The romance is played straight, and quite enjoyably by a keen cast. Downton Abbey’s Lily James plays Lizzie, and Sam Riley’s Darcy is deliciously dark and broody, with a floppy hairdo and a divine cloak-like black leather jacket. (It’s as if he’d tumbled out of an especially heartsick 1990s indie-pop band.)
But in this version, the young ladies are trained in “both the female arts and deadly arts,” allowing Lizzie to deliver such arch shade as “I would trade my Shaolin training for nothing.” In fact, the social intrigue is so pleasurable — Matt Smith kills as the hapless cousin Collins — that I was irked when a particularly fruitful bit of repartee was interrupted by a zombie. (And it made me wish the increasingly tedious Walking Dead had more icily witty banter.) The film’s final third is more action-intensive, but thankfully, there is also a wedding — as there should be.