Zombie boy meets girl in undead romance ‘Warm Bodies’
Updated: February 1, 2013 9:12AM
Falling in love can be complicated, even if you’re not dead.
Fortunately, though, in writer/director Jonathan Levine’s horror-comedy romance “Warm Bodies,” angst-ridden young zombie R (Nicholas Hoult) isn’t going to let a little thing like lifelessness stop him. And the result is the first unexpected charmer of the new year.
As charming as a brain-eating zombie movie can be, that is.
Levine resets the standard zombie scenario from the opening moments by letting us listen in to R’s thoughts as he shuffles through an abandoned airport with hundreds of other undead shufflers. And they’re pretty much the self-absorbed musings you might expect from any young guy who hasn’t quite figured things out yet: “What am I doing with my life? I’m so pale. I should eat better. My posture is terrible. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right. It’s because I’m dead.”
Of course, he’d be lucky to be able to grunt one of those words out loud on a good day.
R’s ability to connect improves dramatically, however, when he and his best dead friend Marcus (former “Daily Show” comic Rob Corddry), out and about and feeling peckish, encounter a group of food scavengers led by young Julie (Teresa Palmer). There aren’t many human beings left in the world and those who have survived live in a walled-off city led by Julie’s hard-case dad (John Malkovich), who sent her and her team out to scrounge for supplies.
The usual thing happens when the zombies encounter stray humans, except for one little detail. While munching on Julie’s boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco), Perry’s memories of Julie awaken R’s heart — and make him fall in love with her himself.
That’s not exactly meeting cute, but it gets the job done. Soon R has helped Julie escape the rest of the zombies, hidden her in the abandoned airliner he calls home — where she’s impressed by his vinyl record collection — and basically convinced her he’s not such a bad guy after all, despite the scars, the black lips and the brain-eating thing.
A little later, with the help of the zombie community, who have also begun to warm up after seeing what’s happened to R, he’s leading Julie back to her home. A mission that makes them both targets of the evil bonies (the skeletal, fast-moving, all-appetite creatures these zombies eventually morph into when they “lose all hope”) — who take over as inhuman bad guys who can be shot on sight without compunction.
There are still complications to be dealt with. Julie doesn’t know that R ate her ex, for one thing, and Julie’s zombie-hating dad can‘t be expected to be thrilled about the situation for another. In fact, R and Julie are facing difficulties that make Romeo and Juliet’s look piddling. But they face them in a way that’s often comical, occasionally horrific and ultimately touching.
That shouldn’t be too surprising. The first sub-textual order of business for any halfway decent zombie story is to comment on what it means to be a human being. Zombies are scary because of their dietary preferences, but they’re disturbing because they’re soulless versions of ourselves — animated but unfeeling.
Generally speaking, the comparison is not flattering. But in this case, not so much. Zombie purists might be appalled, but this time the ambulatory dead serve as reminders of what’s best about being human.
In short, “Warm Bodies” has a warm heart.