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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 01.30.13] horror drama romance

It was only a matter of time before the zombie movie was hijacked and turned into a teen friendly romance. Quite honestly, it's surprising that it's taken as long as it has considering the zombie movie has been in the main stream limelight for decades. An argument could certainly be made for Shaun of the Dead being a romance but then, it doesn't exactly feature humans and zombies falling in love. For that, we have Warm Bodies.

Isaac Marion's novel of the same title, from which the movie is adapted, isn't the first to offer up the idea of zombies as romantic figures but something about it struck the right balance between romance and grotesque and the result is a highly enjoyable read of a book that plays heavy handedly as an allegory to Shakespeare's tale of doomed romance "Romeo and Juliet."

The story unfolds in a future where a mysterious plague has turned most of the world's population into brain eating zombies while the surviving humans have locked themselves up behind heavily fortified walls and developed a militaristic system where the commander rules supreme. Julie lives in one of these complexes, a soldier and daughter of Grigio, the bigwig who oversees their compound. Julie's out on a medicine gathering expedition when the group is attacked by zombies. Julie barely survives the attack and is helped to escape by R, an oddity of a zombie who holds on to some of his human traits, even if he does consume brains. The two help each other out, fall in love and in a grand conclusion, Julie has to prove to her father than R is turning human and that their love is returning other zombies to humanity.

I can hear it now, the "oh brother" exasperations from zombie movie fans who find the very idea of reverting zombies to humans by something as ridiculous as romance, an unforgivable sin. If it wasn't already obvious from the trailer, let me clear this up for you: you're not the target audience. Or are you? Warm Bodies clearly has its sights set on the teen audience and those who don't mind a bit of meddling with the zombie trope but it also features enough of the traditional zombie movie aesthetic that it does provide some cross over appeal. On the one hand Jonathan Levine's movie has very little in common with Romero's classic; it's a straight forward romance story that just happens to unfold within a zombie infested universe while on the other it's very much the same tale of survival of a small group of humans against a horde of zombies. The combination, as unlikely as it seems, works.

It helps that Nicholas Hoult, on the cusp of breaking huge with a repeat performance in X-Men: Days of Future Past and the highly anticipated Mad Max: Fury Road, is ridiculously likeable as the shambling zombie with feelings, while his romantic counterpart Teresa Palmer looks as comfortable shooting a gun as kissing zombies. The two have great chemistry and share some really nice, even touching moments but it's Levine's balancing act of romance and zombie action that really sells Warm Bodies. Sure it's part touchy feely and there are entire stretches of Julie and R sharing time together and looking longingly at each other (often while R fights his inner need to consume her brains) but those are accompanied by violent and bloody zombie killings. Levine never forgets that this story is unfolding in a world plagued by zombie hordes and that death and imminent destruction of human civilization is just around the corner and he plays that up, delivering quite a bit of blood and gore though not enough to completely scare away unassuming movie goers who stumble on this looking for a sweet tale of overcoming differences for love.

On the surface Warn Bodies appears to be the perfect date movie, a combination of action and romance that provides something for everyone but truth is that the romance is likely to put some off while the bit of gore there is will be a hard sell for the other half. Even though it's mostly vacant of brains, Warm Bodies is a good bit of entertainment, especially if you like your rom-com or zombie movie with a twist.

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