“Warm Bodies” proves there are still new stories to be told about the zombie apocalypse, even if they are really just as old as William Shakespeare. This wry and surprising story about young love between a beautiful living girl and a sentient corpse successfully achieves romance without being utterly gross and is funny without diminishing the horror.
“R,” played by Nicholas Hoult (“X-Men: First Class,” “About a Boy”) is a different kind of zombie from the nameless, shuffling brain-feasters seen in “The Walking Dead” and almost every other genre standout going back to “Night of the Living Dead.” Although he was killed by the plague that turned most of humanity into monsters, he is still, for the most part, himself. His brain is a little atrophied — he cannot remember the rest of the letters in his name, for instance — but he's basically a live guy trapped in a dead body. Until he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer), the daughter of resistance leader Grigio (John Malkovich), every day is the same: wander around the ruins of the local airport, occasionally mumbling to his friend “M” (Rob Corddry) and searching for fresh meat.
For reasons that only make sense in zombie fiction, “R” is collecting new memories, and after a close call with Julie, her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and best friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton), “R” knows a lot about Julie, but can only communicate with a few words. By proving that he's a nice guy and not out to kill her and harvest her organs, “R” and Julie discover that the zombie plague might not be a total endgame for humanity after all.
“Warm Bodies” is based on a young adult novel by Isaac Marion, but the true source material is over 400 years old — this is “Romeo and Juliet and Zombies” but without the obvious kitsch that would result from having 16th century Verona attacked by reanimated cadavers. The allusions to Shakespeare are subtle enough to give “Warm Bodies” a little more depth, but writer-director Jonathan Levine (“50/50,” “The Wackness”) is more intent on building the romance, layering on the dark humor and letting the considerable chemistry develop between Hoult and Palmer.
This might look like an attempt to pull a teen-romance phenomenon out of the zombie genre, but “Warm Bodies” is a far better movie than any of the “Twilight Saga” adaptations. And considering the steep difficulty of getting over the intrinsic grossness of rotting bodies, it's a welcome surprise.
— George Lang