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February 2, 2013 | 12:56 p.m. CST
If the success of the AMC drama The Walking Dead hadn’t made it official, Warm Bodies has stamped the seal — zombies have gone mainstream.
Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, the book adaptation takes the zombie genre into the unexplored territory of romance. To call it a cross between zombies and Romeo and Juliet would be unfair, mostly because it sounds too cheesy. The references to William Shakespeare’s classic are much more subtle and smart.Related Movie
R (Nicholas Hoult), the zombie lead, is more of an angsty teen than he is undead. His shoulders are slumped, and his shrugs are indifferent. The poor guy just wants to connect instead of wandering around aimlessly with the rest of the “corpses.” Even the interactions with his best friend, M (Rob Corddry), are reduced to grunts and, at the most vocal point, the word “hungry.” The viewer is guided by R’s narrative inner monologue as he struggles to express himself.
Then he meets his love, the very alive Julie (Teresa Palmer), after gorging on her boyfriend’s brains and seeing his memories — most of them about Julie — as if the lobes were laced with LSD. The corpses can only experience memories in this gruesome way. R can’t even remember his own name.
R saves the girl from his fellow corpses, and as they spend more time together, his behavior starts to become more human. His development is clear, but Julie’s is less so. She’s the slightly rebellious daughter of an overbearing general (John Malkovich), hardened by the loss of his wife. She’s hardly even upset by her boyfriend’s demise, even for someone aware of death’s inevitability in the post-apocalyptic world. Apart from that, her character is largely unexplored.
Warm Bodies is strangely sweet and at times humorous. It doesn’t take itself too seriously — which could doom a movie of its kind and put it in the same cornball league as Twilight — with moments like R explaining his appreciation of vinyl because it sounds more “alive.” It’s a funny play on words but also shows his desire to become human again instead of feasting on flesh and tripping on brains.
Although billed as a zombie love story, the film best represents a desire to change. When Julie finally starts to fall for her undead admirer, she comments that he’s trying harder than anyone alive. He’s a good person.
The “corpses” aren’t so bad after all, especially in comparison to their enemy, the “boneys,” who couldn’t resist their hunger, eating their own flesh and turning into quick, ravenous monsters. It’s an interesting dynamic — good zombies and bad zombies.
Romance doesn’t kill have to kill every monster genre. This one does it well.