An attractive, undead young man encounters an equally attractive, living young woman and instantly falls for her, sweeping her into his supernatural world and setting in motion a series of events that changes that world forever. That rough plot outline makes Warm Bodies sound like the zombie version of Twilight, but despite its superficial similarities to the sparkly vampire franchise (both are also based on popular novels), Warm Bodies is much less melodramatic and more genuinely heartfelt, even if it is sometimes irredeemably cheesy.
It helps that love-struck zombie R (Nicholas Hoult) is no brooding Edward Cullen; although he can barely speak more than a grunt as the movie begins, his narration is self-deprecating and funny, and he immediately understands the inherent creepiness of his crush on human hottie Julie (Teresa Palmer). That doesn’t stop him from kidnapping her and taking her back to the zombie enclave, where the two of them form an unlikely bond that also serves to rekindle R’s humanity. Soon they are headed back to the walled-off human settlement, determined to convince Julie’s military-leader dad (John Malkovich) that something has started to change among the undead.
Isaac Marion’s source novel, written from R’s perspective, is lyrical and often moving, and some of his more poetic notions come across as hokey when illustrated onscreen (showing the zombies’ hearts literally glow with new life as love blossoms between Julie and R, for example, oversimplifies Marion’s more abstract notions of the power of love). But screenwriter and director Jonathan Levine, who has experience both with horror (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) and with emotionally affecting comedy-drama (The Wackness, 50/50), is the right choice to adapt Marion’s work, and he often finds creative ways to translate a narrative that is largely internal.
Hoult and Palmer are attractive if a little bland, and Hoult sometimes struggles to find the right balance between zombie emptiness and burgeoning humanity, but their relationship has passion at the right moments. Levine leans a little too hard on the love-conquers-all angle toward the end (versus the book’s more ambiguous take), but Warm Bodies remains a refreshing approach to both the zombie and teen-romance genres.