I'm a sucker for zombies. That said I have my limits. In the few decades people have been bastardizing George Romero's labor of love with very mixed results. For every 28 Days Later or Walking Dead there's a dozen straight to video hack jobs. It's to the point where it takes something special to make me bite (no pun intended...well it was kind of intended), but humanizing a zombie struck me as a new idea. Not entirely new mind you, Romero was playing with it as far back as 1985 when Dr. Logan used music to stir Bub's humanity in Day of the Dead, but Warm Bodies looked like a fresh take so I gave it a shot.
The trailer for Warm Bodies plays up the comedic vibe, but this film is no Shaun of the Dead. In fact it's more love story than comedy (a Romantic Zombedy if you will). There's a bit of Robin Campillo's little seen, avant, French zombie drama, Les Revanants (They Came Back) in there, but unfortunately it's too much tweener romance to really be clever or fresh. My eleven year old son even pointed out a thinly veiled literary reference that had escaped me. The zombie can't remember his name - only that it begins with R and the love interest is named Julie. "Get it dad? R for Romeo and Julie is short for Juliet?" From the mouth of babes indeed.
R is a thoughtful zombie who wanders from place to place amongst his zombie brethren, following the routine of visiting familiar places and always searching for his next meal, but there's an inner dialog that R can't verbalize because he's dead. In Warm Bodies there are two kinds of zombies, "corpses", which are the traditional zombies that we're all familiar with and "bones" which are the skeletal remains of a zombie who's wasted away to the point of being unrecognizably human. For reasons unexplained bones will hunt anything with a heartbeat and are somehow even faster and stronger than corpses (or so it appears anyway). One day R rounds up a group of "friends" to hunt in a pack and they stumble upon a group of survivors led by Julie, daughter of the Resistance leader (played by John Malkovich), but instead of eating her R finds himself attracted to her. He saves the girl from the hungry pack and takes her back to his "home" where he cares for her and protects her from other zombies, all the while growing more and more "human" in her presence. Julie escapes and heads for home, but not before realizing that R has stirred something in her as well and that it's the very thing that may lead to the cure they've searched so desperately for.
Sound stupid? It is. Warm Bodies has it's moments and it's not completely unclever, but ultimately it plays too much like a movie for the Twilight set for genre fans to enjoy. Zombie purists will HATE this movie and rightfully so. I mean do we really want kinder, gentler zombies? I know I don't. If you're a teenage girl by all means check this one out, but I'm sticking with Uncle George where my zombies are concerned.