I’d first heard about this movie via its trailer, and I wasn’t expecting to like this one. I was expecting Twilight with zombies (particularly as lead actress Teresa Palmer looks like Kristen Stewart borrowed a smile from Scarlett Johanssen). Instead, what I got was a cute, sweet, self-aware love story in the time of zombie apocalypse.
Indeed, the trailer made it look like a cheesy ’90s-era teen sitcom with very little depth, and there is a bit of a mopey young adult shambling about all lovesick, but said lovesick mope is in fact a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult). Not quite literally soft in the head yet, he’s able to communicate in bursts of words that he struggles to get out (much credit to Hoult for getting said words out without the forced tedium you’d expect of it), in the hopes of winning over Julie (Pamer). R can keep her safe for now, but keeping her from the other zombies proves to be a bit of a tricky one.
The zombies themselves, even the non “R”-type ones, are different from movie zombies we’ve come to know. They don’t lurch like Romero’s undead; they don’t sprint like Romero’s rebooted undead; they just shuffle back and forth, or make repetitive movements (such as the permanently-waving TSA agent). They are slow, aimless, mostly harmless (until they see fresh meat). And here’s where it lends itself to its own lore (and this is something I’m such a sucker for); zombies are evolving; some can communicate with humans, some remain in their current state, and some (whose survival mode kicked in too early) have mutated into literally ravenous skeletons.
I love when a movie creates its own logic and genre rules for an already-established genre; it gives the story incredible cohesion by telling the audience, “this is why zombies actually eat brains” or “this is what happens when zombies don’t eat properly”. Hoult and Palmer have great on-screen chemistry as the film’s star-crossed lovers (who didn’t get that Romeo and Juliet reference at the balcony?), and John Malkovich is perfect as Palmer’s on-screen military father. Dialogue is sharp (as is R’s adorkably self-conscious voiceover, which provides a relief from his mouth-fart-words), and pacing is quick and fast from the start. The zombie makeup is a little hokey; I know we’re trying to establish that R is a little different (and so he needs to be presented as somewhat attractive to the audience), but his makeup borders on sullen sparkly perma-teenage vamp goth, but without the sparkles. It’s a little distracting; it looks a little cheap, and too precisely-defined.
Clunky as this interpretation may be (again, it’s late), this is more than just a cute love story; it’s an interesting, if superficial look at survival, evolution and human betterment – man’s insistence to push on – especially in the face of near-human extinction…wrapped up in a cute love story. It’s very self-aware, almost as if it went up to Shaun of the Dead, had a conversation with it, and realized it didn’t want to draw too many comparisons (hard due to the similar genre mashup and light tone, but that’s really just about it). Pleasantly surprised at this one; I don’t want to even suggest I’m comparing it to Twilight by invoking both names in the same sentence, so I’ll just say that it’s just not like any zombie movie I’ve ever seen; even with its beatless heart, it has more genuine life in it than most other similar movies that hide behind a layer of snark or parody.