Craig Gillespie has had a lot to say lately about his new role as director of the long-troubled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. He gives some good sound bites: he intends a gothic tone contrasted with the pastoral quality of Austen’s novels, he’s excited about the big action sequences and elaborate set pieces, and he wants the love story between Elizabeth and Darcy to really thrive at the core of all the juxtaposition and, you know, zombies. But I can’t help but wonder: why the hell are they even bothering with this movie anymore?
Here’s the thing. I love Jane Austen. I have seen just about every version of every adaptation of her books. I’ve read the books themselves countless times. I wrote my senior thesis on the subversive feminism of Jane Austen novels. I also love zombies. I love horror. I read author Seth Grahame-Smith’s book when it was first published and rather enjoyed it, in that it was simply one of my favorite novels, plus zombies. And at this point, even I have no interest in seeing this film.
The adaptation of P&P&Z has been beleaguered at best. At first David O. Russell was tapped to direct with Natalie Portman producing and starring. That would have been rad, and it piqued my interest about a thousand years ago. Then Russell dropped out, citing budget issues, quickly followed by Portman’s departure due to scheduling conflicts. (Russell’s screenplay will still be used and Portman is still producing, however.) Later, director Mike White was hired to helm the project, with Scarlett Johannson and Bradley Cooper rumored to star. Soon after, James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway were instead being considered for the leads, and Mike White dropped out to focus instead on an HBO series. Now Craig Gillespie has been hired to direct the film, still from Russell’s script, and it’s likely that new actors will be brought in for Elizabeth and Darcy.
My misgivings about his upcoming Fright Night remake aside, I think Craig Gillespie is a solid director. Lars and The Real Girl was boring, but well-made and endearingly quirky. I like that he’s chosen to direct these three incongruous features (with only the common thread, pointed out by EW in the Gillespie interview, of “things that aren’t really alive”). Plenty of films go through the casting and directing merry-go-round before they finally make it into production, and many of them still end up being good movies. By all accounts, Russell’s screenplay is unsurprisingly good. But Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was published on the tail end of an already stale trend of Austen-adjacent projects such as Becoming Jane and The Jane Austen Book Club. The literary/horror mash-up trend started by P&P&Z also immediately grew trite with crap like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Jane Slayre, Little Vampire Women, Android Karenina, Wuthering Bites, Romeo and Juliet and Vampires and The Undead World of Oz all following soon after. Jesus, those titles were absolutely painful for me to type.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a gimmick, amusing and somewhat innovative as the first of its kind, but slight nonetheless. Its time has passed. So why is Lionsgate still shelling out $30 million to make this movie? And who is going to see it? Speak up in the comments, because I’m truly baffled. If I’m not the target audience for this film, who is?
You can read more from Meredith at www.dannyisnthere.com.