By Gary Dowell
A fun and funny twist on the romantic comedy, Jonathan Levine’s (50/50) adaptation of Isaac Marion’s novel of love in the time of the zombie apocalypse makes more an unlikely but effective Valentine’s Day date flick, one that plays out like Romeo and Juliet in reverse.
It’s hard not to feel some pity for the lad at the center of the story, played by Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class); he’s an aimless and lonely youth adrift in an uncertain world, lost in the crowd and struggling to establish some form of meaningful human connection. This is largely due to the fact that he’s a re-animated corpse, but R.’s (all that he can remember of his past identity is his initial) voice-over narration informs us that the only difference being zombified made in his life was the lack of a pulse and craving for human flesh.
He spends his time shuffling around the remains of an airport with the rest of his kind, each acting out shadowy memories of their prior lives like the mall-going animated corpses of Dawn of the Dead. In between feeding on hapless humans and avoiding the aggressive “bonies” (zombies so far gone they border on animalistic), R. listens to vinyl albums in his makeshift home in an abandoned 737 (yep, he’s a sensitive zombie, but his musical tastes fill the movie’s rather kick-ass and well-used soundtrack) and wonders if there isn’t more to life — er, unlife. Whatever.
This changes one day when R., his zombie pal M. (Rob Corddry), and their gang of shuffling cadavers happen across a group of humans led by Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco). Naturally, a bloodbath ensues, during which the site of Julie stirs something in R. other than cannibalistic tendencies. Smitten, he saves the girl’s life, hides her in his pad, and proceeds to woo her in a case of awkward young love made even more so by the fact that he’s, well, a barely articulate walking corpse.
Romances have started on rockier footing, however; still, this one is also complicated by the fact that Julie’s father, General Grigio (John Malkovich at his crazy best) is the single-minded, hard-nosed leader of a colony of survivors, and because R. ate Perry, brains and all.
Granted, both Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland successfully applied the rom-com formula to zombie flick, but they did it without the necrophilia (for lack of a better word). Warm Bodies aims for humor and heart over horror and gore, which may turn off more die-hard zombie movie fans. Most entries into the genre — like most classic horror movies in general — are grounded in allegory; while Warm Bodies isn’t interested in making a sociopolitical statement, but it does make clever use as zombie-ism (Zombieness? Living impaired? Whatever.) as a metaphor for apathy and the transformative power of love. Think Beauty and the Beast without the aspects of battered spouse syndrome.
That said, it doesn’t devolve into treacly blandness, thanks partly to Levine’s smart, hilarious (though occasionally heavy-handed) script. Still, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference without the chemistry between Hoult and Palmer to drive this story of forbidden young love. Both are likable; he’s what’s left of a nice guy, and she’s literally capable of bringing a corpse back to life. Really, what more can people ask for these days?