Were you expecting the zombie equivalent of The Twilight Saga, or perhaps something akin to a gratuitous gore-fest spawn of George A. Romero? Either way, you’d be dead wrong. This zom-rom-com is very much an inverted Zombieland: a quirky tale reminiscent of500 Days of Summer which is sure to warm the coldest of hearts.
Based on Isaac Marion’s 2011 novel of the same name, the story is told from the unorthodox perspective of the zombie protagonist, R (Nicholas Hoult). An unusual twist on this predictable horror genre, R is a conflicted zombie who yearns to make a connection with people, but cannot fight his compulsion for eating human flesh.
Laced with subtle humour, Hoult gives an earnest interior monologue throughout. This inventive point of view begins lightly with clever in-jokes, but quickly shifts into poignant introspection as R unwittingly falls in love with a survivor, Julie (Teresa Palmer), albeit after consuming her boyfriend.
This is where the film takes all expectations and turns them entirely on their head. Director Jonathan Levine’s previous directorial endeavour, the dark comedy-drama 50/50, defied expectations by intertwining such tragedy with sincere human emotion, and Warm Bodies is a similar amalgamation.
What will take most audiences by surprise is the gravity of the pre-apocalyptic memories, which give glimpses into the former lives of the dead (and undead). Most notable is the tragic story of Julie’s boyfriend Perry Kelvin (Dave Franco), whose short-lived appearance gives the film a much needed emotional undertow, transcending this particular zombie romance from cutesy into a moving affair.
Alas, the film is not without its fair share of drawbacks. John Malkovich is not given nearly enough room to stretch his usual acting prowess, delivering a somewhat restrained performance as the father of Hoult’s love interest. Also attracting criticism is the mediocre use of special effects to create the skeletal Bonies: the antagonistic zombies which are said to have lost all sense of humanity.
The questionable CGI, however, can easily be overlooked. The frequent pop-culture references and deadpan one-liners almost inevitably ensures Warm Bodies’ status as future cult classic. And unlike the living dead, the film moves at breakneck pace as Hoult imbues charisma into an otherwise two-dimensional character, bouncing off Palmer (think Kristen Stewart, but upbeat) with great chemistry, giving credence to this charming ‘horror’ story.
I guess it’s true what they say: romance is dead.