Shaun of the Dead is the one true romantic comedy with zombies. That said, it doesn't hurt to have a little company, and I'm happy to say that Warm Bodies earns its place as a legitimate entry into this very narrow sub-genre.
The film follows R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie with an internal monologue and a personality. He wanders a derelict airport, hangs out with his best zombie friend, and keeps a collection of pre-apocalypse trinkets around. Right from square one, Warm Bodies drifts out of the margins of the zombie rulebook.
He has to eat people, but he doesn't feel great about it. The ones who lack his moral fiber eventually waste away into "bonies," skeletal jerks that make the zombies seem a little less scary. R and company avoid the bonies, but they still have to eat. It's on one of these food runs that he stumbles upon Julie (Teresa Palmer), a blonde, Bella Swan look-a-like that's about 300 percent less annoying. It helps that she looks like a badass killing zombies, so R instantly falls for her.
What ensues is one of the strangest love stories committed to film. What's even stranger is how well it works. Warm Bodies is genuine and light-hearted, with plenty of humor and the perfect amount of romance. If you were worried that this was fodder for the Twi-hards, your fears were unwarranted.
There's a lot of fun to be had with the concept, too. Hoult delivers his zombie-with-a-heart performance brilliantly. It could have been so easy for the character to wear out his welcome within five minutes, yet he remains wonderful throughout.
The addendums to zombie law work as smart plot devices. Eating brains allow the zombies to relive their victim's memories, for example. Zombies aren't usually so lively, either. R can only grunt and shuffle at the beginning of the film, but he still has more consciousness than the mindless flesh-eaters we usually get.
There are underlying themes like the effort to better yourself or the emptiness of a life without love, but they're all offered up so playfully. Warm Bodies recognizes the irony of human messages delivered by a zombie and chooses to be fun and light with it, rather than overbearing.
My only problem with Warm Bodies was its light-hearted nature seemed to hurt in the rush to wrap up the plot in a timely fashion. I would have been okay with another ten minutes or so, just because the final act felt so hurried. The evolution of R takes place over the course of the entire movie, but his zombie friends seem to accomplish everything he does with little effort.
Traditional horror seems to be languishing at the moment, but Warm Bodies offers up yet another example of excellent horror comedy. This Romeo & Juliet tale is smart and funny, steering clear of the teen romance angle it could have so easily fallen for. Shaun of the Dead has some good company.