Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 genre mash-up novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (out Feb. 5) stars Lily James as Jane Austen’s heroine Elizabeth Bennet — now equipped with undead-slaying skills — and tracks her romance with zombie-hunting Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley). Horror-loving EW writer Clark Collis got on the phone with Austen expert Devoney Looser, Professor of English at Arizona State University, to ruminate on the result.
CLARK COLLIS: I was surprised by how Jane Austen-y the movie felt. It really concentrates on the Bennet sisters and the ways in which they find love and/or marriage in 19th-century England — albeit a Britain afflicted by a plague of the undead. A more honest title might have been Pride and Prejudice With Occasional Zombies.
PROFESSOR DEVONEY LOOSER: I immensely enjoyed the first half, when the juxtapositions are still so comic and so jarring. Once it gets into full-on zombies, I feel a little out of my depth.
COLLIS: The zombies featured in the film have different “rules” than usual. Instead of the infected dying and then automatically returning as mindless flesh-eaters, here they actually have to eat brains before becoming full-on undead.
LOOSER: I love learning new things! 1819 is the first documented use of the word zombie in English, if the Oxford English Dictionary is to be believed. Two years after Austen died. It wasn’t the brain-eating version but more like a ghost.
COLLIS: What’s the name of the lead sister? Remind me, sorry.
LOOSER: Oh my God, you’re killing me here! Elizabeth or Lizzy. The heroine.
COLLIS: Right. Right. In the film, she’s very much a feminist heroine. Is she like that in the book?
LOOSER: Well, she’s not kicking zombie ass. But the feminist elements of Elizabeth Bennet are spot-on. I edited a book called Jane Austen and Discourses of Feminism, and feminist interpretations of her books are really central to what I do. I think Lily James was a beautiful, badass warrior.
COLLIS: I also really liked Matt Smith as the creepily full-of-himself vicar, or whatever he is.
LOOSER: Mr. Collins! They keep calling him “Parson Collins” in the film. He stole the film. I’m going to have a hard time going back to the novel and reading Mr. Collins in the same way.
COLLIS: Was there anything that annoyed you about the way the characters were portrayed?
LOOSER: They took a lot of liberties. They combined Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy to make Colonel Darcy. It didn’t annoy me. Mr. Darcy can’t be traipsing around the country when there’s a zombie apocalypse going on. Making him a military man made sense.
COLLIS: I enjoy genre movies that attempt something different — and this does — but I didn’t find it all that scary. I’d give it a B.
LOOSER: I laughed a lot and I shrieked. I was wavering between B+ and A–. I’m willing to bump it up for its originality and live with my grade-inflation reputation: A–
You can see the trailer for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, below.