A zombie movie to warm the soul

Zombie movies are overdone. You can only take a zombie premise so far, and lately this tired genre, like its antagonists, has been a largely brain-dead affair. But what if zombies didn’t have to be drooling, shuffling flesh-eaters? What if they could feel? Warm Bodies is a terrific little film that explores these questions, giving a softer side to the living dead.

Set in an unnamed city that has clearly been through hell, Warm Bodies follows the mundane existence of R (Nicholas Hoult), a likeable member of the un-dead hordes. He spends his days shambling around an airport, attempting to make incoherent conversation with his best friend M, and trying to remember what life was like when he was alive. During one of his many attacks on humans, he notices a beautiful girl, Julie (Teresa Palmer), who makes him hesitate amid his murderous rampage. He protects her from his hungry friends, and the two form an unlikely bond. Unfortunately, Julie’s father (John Malkovich) is not so understanding of their relationship, and the two must go to extreme lengths to protect their love.

This movie could have been really bad. It could have gone for cheap laughs and devolved into a zombie gore-fest seen a thousand times before. But Warm Bodies surprised me with its gently funny farcem which blends horror and romance to create a wonderfully entertaining story. Other romantic comedies should take note: simply make one character a zombie and you’ll create a better love story than anything Nicholas Sparks ever wrote.

Hoult is perfect as R. He plays the zombified protagonist as an awkward and deeply conflicted soul, searching for normalcy in an abnormal world. He finds a sense of peace in Julie, but he, unfortunately, is unable talk to her because of his zombie language barrier. Hoult may be playing a zombie, but his stumbling delivery is reminiscent of a teenager attempting to ask a girl to prom. He is painfully in love with her, and his bumbling makes him the most likeable zombie in cinema history.

Ironically, Palmer is the less interesting half of the couple, playing Julie as a clichéd girl-next-door. Thankfully, she works well with Hoult and their on-screen romance is believably sweet.

Besides well-cast characters, the film’s biggest strength is its affable, light-hearted tone. It doesn’t try to be excessively crass, nor is it ever bogged down in gory scares. Honestly, it reminds me of the sweetly optimistic films of the ‘40s and ‘50s. With its none too subtle themes of acceptance and true love, Warm Bodies plays more like It’s a Wonderful Life than Night of the Living Dead. In a time when films often take pains to be brutally realistic, Warm Bodies is cheerful fluff in the best sense.

Though not filled with gut-busting laughs, Warm Bodies will charm you with its affecting story and likeable characters. Never has a movie about zombies made me feel so alive.

Published February 7, 2013 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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