Review: 'Warm Bodies' is a surprisingly charming hipster zombie rom-com
Call it the True Blood ripple effect. Or collateral damage from all those aggressive TwiHard campaigns. Most of today’s bloodsucker storylines seem to beg the question: why can’t monsters be sweet, selfless AND sexy? They ask us to stop vilifying the ‘Other’, embrace him…and make revolutionary love, already! So it was only a matter of time before we’d see a post-modern Romeo and Juliet allegory with an undead twist. The ultimate shocker may just be that it’s an enjoyable teen flick that thankfully never takes itself too seriously.
Backed by Twilight supply chain Summit Entertainment (surprise, surprise), 50/50 director Jonathan Levine adapts this young adult novel about an oh-so forbidden love that blossoms between “R”, a hoodie-clad hipster zombie and Julie, a human survivor living in an urban wasteland (bonjour, Montréal!) that’s been decimated by a paranormal plague.
This teen zom-rom-com sets the tone early on with a balance of whimsical humour and PG-13 horror. Our brooding hipster zombie hero “R” (a standout Nicholas Hoult) unloads his existential angst in a series of deadpan voice-over monologues. In Warm Bodies, the undead may feast on human flesh, but they also take the piss out of themselves for slouching, grouching, and their snaillike pace (“God we move slow,” quips R after taking a look around him.)
Nicholas Hoult, Rob Corddry and Teresa Palmer in Warm Bodies
When R and his idling buddies hunt down a fleshy meal, our blue-eyed zombie dreamboat catches sight of Julie (Teresa Palmer, an uncanny Kristen Stewart look-alike minus the sulk) and it’s love at first sight. But R takes a very unattractive approach to wooing the object of his affection: he kills her studly boyfriend, steals his watch, eats his brain bits and saves the leftovers for munchies. Because, in a creative twist to zombie conventions, eating brain chunks allow the undead to vicariously experience their victims’ memories.
Completely crippled with infatuation, the sentimental R takes Julie back to safety in an abandoned 747 near the desolate airport (Mirabel!) where he lives. He feeds her canned fruit, wins coveted indie points with his collection of hard-to-find vinyls (because they “sound…better”, he mutters) and stares at her creepily as she sleeps. You know where this is going, of course: they crush hard for each other in a post-apocalyptic world that won’t tolerate their shacking up one bit, as both species are battling it out for survival.
Warm Bodies could have taken its innovative premise a lot further: a few characters seem to exist solely for their punchline potential and you can smell the “Love thy corpse-neighbour” climax from the get-go. But it’s also an often witty, fresh take on zombie folklore for those who prefer chaste teen passions to gory panic.
Teen temptation knows no bounds. #YOLO
Interestingly, Levine chose not to dress up Montreal as another urban centre – the city gets to fully shine as a decaying metropolis infested with flesh-hungry undead! If there’s any profound social commentary to take away from Warm Bodies, I’d argue it’s implied in all those majestic shots of the Big O, the Old Port, Mirabel Airport, Parc Lafontaine and the Turcot Interchange. Montreal as a toxic, lawless cesspool – dare I say a “crumbling, monster-ridden disgrace”? Wow, such boundless imagination, those Hollywood types…
Warm Bodies | Now in theatres | facebook.com/WarmBodiesMovie