Zombie romance offers a surprisingly successful twist on Romeo and Juliet

Movie Review imageIf love is a battlefield, this one’s a doozy.

The story of Romeo and Juliet gets a modern revamp (or re-zomb?) in the new rom-zom-com “Warm Bodies,” where being a Capulet means you’re living, and a Montague means you’re the living dead.

The premise sounds horrendously cheesy, but it’s actually surprisingly touching. While both the movie and Isaac Marion novel it’s based on take obvious references from the great Shakespearian play, the plot doesn’t overdo it.

R (Nicholas Hoult, “X-Men: First Class”) is a zombie living in an airport. He shuffles and shambles around all day, grunting and growling, but is alive in the head. He’s fully conscious inside but can’t express it. One day, he and his “best friend” M (Rob Corddry, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) go looking for humans to eat with a pack of other zombies from the airport.

What they find is a group of humans gathering medical supplies for their walled-off colony. Among them is Julie (Teresa Palmer, “Love and Honor”) and when R sees her, something stirs in him, pulling his humanity towards the surface. After rescuing her from the rest of the zombie pack and taking her to his little corner of the airport (an entire commercial airplane) to keep her safe, the two begin to bond and develop a shaky trust that slowly turns to friendship.

The longer Julie and R are together, the more human R becomes, and when M and the other zombies see them together, something human stirs in them too. But, will it be enough to cure the dead? Or will this budding romance end as tragically as Shakespeare’s when Julie’s overprotective father, leader of the walled-off colony, gets wind of what’s going on?

The charm of this movie falls on R’s character. His internal monologue throughout the movie serves as reminder for how human he still is inside. It adds both comic relief and depth to the story. When we see him kill a human for food, he says in his mind, “I don’t want to hurt you, but this is the world we live in now.” The story even adds a touching and humanizing reason for why zombies eat human brains: When they do, they absorb the feelings and memories of the victim — it’s the closest they get to feeling human again.

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Hoult does a beautiful job as R, but at times in the beginning it feels like he has too much control of his fine motor skills. He turns on record players and opens doors with apparent ease, yet when he walks, he is every bit the slow, barely animated creature we all recognize as the standard zombie. The contrast between these actions in the beginning is a bit too much. But Hoult himself is a great fit for the role — his expressions, his manner of speech as it grows, it’s all endearing. He is every bit the inexperienced young lover trying to impress a girl.

Palmer is also fantastic as Julie. She is fickle, spunky and strong-willed, but she is also sad, tender and frightened. She takes time to warm up to R (no pun intended), but the process is gradual and mostly believable. Her performance may not be nominated for any awards, but in the context of the movie, she does well.

The film never explicitly shows why R’s relationship with Julie is changing things for the undead. It isn’t just their love, but the memory of love and companionship that begins to cure them. The dead begin to sleep and dream, where memories of their former lives coming back to them slowly. Though it may seem so on the surface, the message of this movie isn’t that love can cure anything. The resounding message in this unlikely zombie romance is that love makes us human, and that as long as we remember that, there’s always hope.

Movie: “Warm Bodies”

Genre: Comedy, Horror, Romance

Release Date: Feb. 1, 2013

Director: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich

Rating: 4