Movie review – Romance of the living dead

2013-03-17 10:00

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In a post-apocalyptic world, a zombie and a girl find love. Gayle Edmunds toasts the genius genre mashup

I don’t really like horror films – it’s all that fake blood and killing that does me in – and the ending is always seriously south of happy. My logical, evolved brain knows it’s all props and special effects, but my scaredy-cat, primitive brain can’t help screaming inside. But Warm Bodies is only part horror, and mostly romance. Much more my speed.

R (Nicholas Hoult) – a very unusual zombie who can’t quite remember the rest of his name – saves a human girl (Teresa Palmer) from harm instead of eating her brain. This unzombie-like act literally changes the world.

The film begins with R’s narration of his rather bizarre life post-apocalypse. He and his fellow zombies hang out at an airport, hoping to get the hell out of flesh-eating limbo. They shuffle around and groan, and occasionally shamble into town to find fresh brains to eat.

The brains are only available in live people so this puts zombies in conflict with the enclave of humans living behind a huge zombie-deflecting wall. As R admits, he’s very conflicted about all this brain-eating.

Writer Isaac Marion self-published this zombie romance back in 2010 and garnered rave reviews for a genre mashup that is pure genius. The rights to the film were bought and Hoult was cast as the good-looking, sensitive zombie.

It’s not easy to look handsome with a face full of mortuary-grey makeup, a shambling walk and a gormless, dead-eyed expression, but Hoult pulls it off. The child who made his celluloid splash in About a Boy has secured his place in the mainstream with this, as well as with X-Men: First Class, the upcoming sequel to that, and next weekend’s release of Jack The Giant Slayer.

R’s hapless love interest is Julie (Palmer), the daughter of the trigger-happy general in charge of the humans, played by John Malkovich in a full metal jacket.

She is, understandably, freaked out when R saves her and takes her away to his grounded airplane where he has collections of all things human, but most of all music (the soundtrack is retro-fabulous).

When she eventually gets over the fear of being takeaway brains, the pair strike up a somewhat awkward friendship – awkward because R ate her boyfriend’s brains before saving her. It’s a lot to overcome romance-wise.

After all, most people just have to contend with different religions, cultures or hometowns to finally have love triumph. (See below for some of Hollywood’s bigger obstacles to true love).

In one of his interviews, the author says that this story is a fable about how we all live boxed-in lives, unthinking and uncritical until something awakens us again. Whatever. You can read it that way too.

As a movie, though, I can’t help but think George A Romero, the godfather of zombies who created the blueprint for the genre with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, must be delighted that someone has taken his creation and done something truly original with it.

This satire-slash-romance-slash-horror takes the zombie experience further – it is witty, weird and, above all, hopeful.

This is what makes the film such a hit. It manages to get a fair amount of the required blood and guts into the mix, true, but it is about that which makes us human (and zombie): hope.

The hope of a better life, a better future and, yes, the hope of being a real, live human being again.

Warm Bodies is hard to resist – just like R. It may not look like your taste, but once you give it a chance you’ll find yourself quite taken by it.

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