Horror and Romance Rarely Mix, but a Movie New to Netflix is a Great Exception
What’s even more undead — and somehow more romantic — than a vampire?
When it comes to supernatural romance, there is before Twilight, and after. The Stephenie Meyer novel and its 2008 film adaptation changed the world and paved the way for a young adult novel boom in Hollywood.
The industry’s fascination with forbidden teen romance was short-lived. Studios tried their damnedest to replicate the box office success of Twilight and its sequels, but nothing ever quite matched the original phenomenon. Hollywood tried every supernatural pairing under the sun, matching plucky human heroines with vampires, werewolves, fairies, and various magic wielders. They even gave aliens a shot. Until Warm Bodies, though, no one had the guts to capitalize on another growing pop culture craze: the zombie thriller.
Warm Bodies exists at the rare intersection of two genres that normally have nothing to do with each other. Adapted from an Isaac Marion novel, the film is equal parts zombie horror and romantic comedy. There are shades of classic romantic fables in the zom-rom-com: its protagonists are clear stand-ins for Romeo and Juliet, but its premise also draws worthy comparisons to Beauty and the Beast. It also shares some connective tissue with Twilight, thanks to its producers at Summit Entertainment and a surprisingly solid grungy soundtrack. But Warm Bodies is so much more than just another Twilight knock-off. Its off-beat humor gives it irresistible charm, and its bizarre but endearing romance makes it a guilty pleasure.
Nicholas Hoult stars as R, a new zombie facing an existential crisis that runs parallel to the ennui so many millennials were facing in the 2010s. He whiles away his days at an airport hangar overrun with the undead, or at his bachelor pad, a decrepit Beoing 747, listening to angsty records and lamenting via voiceover that no one wants to “connect” anymore. If he wasn’t a zombie, he’d feel right at home in a John Hughes movie. It’s hard not to root for the guy, even if he does feast on human flesh.
Ironically, that’s what makes R feel human again. Zombies absorb the memories and emotions of their victims, and though R feels terrible about killing people, he does love the sensation of being alive. He frequently goes out with his zombie pals in search of his next meal, and it’s on one such excursion that R runs into Julie (Teresa Palmer), the girl of his dreams. Their meet-cute isn’t exactly conventional — R kills Julie’s boyfriend (Dave Franco) right in front of her — but after chowing down on his memories, R falls head over heels.
R wastes no time dragging Julie back to his home. Julie attempts to escape, but eventually warms to him. Sure, he’s not technically alive, but that might be changing. As they spend time together, R becomes more communicative, exchanging vacuous grunts and stunted phrases for coherent thoughts. He even starts to dream again, something thought to be impossible for zombies.
Perhaps the film’s biggest redeeming quality is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s outlandish, a little goofy, and takes a simple approach to the idea that love conquers all. It also helps that the film is really funny. Hoult and Palmer’s star-crossed lovers get some chances to cut loose, but comedy vet Rob Corddry delivers the real laughs as R’s zombie BFF.
Warm Bodies came at the tail end of the YA wave, when Twilight fatigue was at an all-time high and few teen-skewing romances had staying power. Warm Bodies’ attempt to straddle two genres wasn’t quite enough to bring it out of Twilight’s shadow, but it does help it stand out from the pack today. It’s worth a reappraisal, if only to watch an impossibly pale Nicholas Hoult doing his best zombie impression.