The idea of zombies taking over society is becoming a more prevalent and popular theme in entertainment. Taking the zombies and humanizing them, although not a completely original idea typically has a magical or scientific explanation. If Jonathan Levine had followed suit in a similar manner, perhaps he would have had a stronger film.
Our story opens to a zombie giving a monologue played by Nicholas Hoult; although he can’t remember his name, he still has quite a lively approach to things. He is aware of his surroundings, makes plans, uses tools and even communicates and befriends other zombies. On one outing to forage for food, they come upon a group of humans including Julie, played by Teresa Palmer. Once the nameless zombie – he remembers that his name starts with R, but that’s the extent of it – lays eyes upon Julie, he is compelled to save her. He kills her boyfriend and eats some of his brains, which gives him some of the boy’s memories. After saving Julie, he takes her back to his shelter, an airplane still on the tarmac, which is thoroughly adorned with a collection of knick-knacks and records. After speaking to her, he is able to convince her that he won’t hurt her and will take her home in a few days once it’s safe. Together, they grow in feelings as R becomes more and more human.
There isn’t sufficient explanation in the story to justify the transformation here. Take, for example, Land of the Dead. In that film, the zombies started to remember, virtually instinctively, their old lives and begin to use primitive tools but are still acting much as they had before. Here, R is still thinking and behaving like a human; at virtually no point does he come across as a brainless killing machine. Although the original interpretation of the mythos is appreciated, the complete lack of explanation is frustrating, as well as the final implementation.
At the end, R is slowly regaining his humanity. The act that finally has his heart beating normally and gets blood running through his veins again is a kiss from Julie. Until then, there were explanations sufficient to rationalize things thus far. He was able to dream and reach new levels of consciousness because his emotions were being awakened for the first time in who knows how long. His heart can start beating again as a result of those emotions and the physical reactions thereof. However, for the congealed blood to just start flowing and for him to turn almost completely human again because of a kiss is something out of a fairy tale, which is the definite feel of this movie.
The characters in this film are very well portrayed. John Malkovich does a great job of the leader of the town who lost his wife in the original outbreak. Hoult and Palmer do a great job as the budding, star-crossed lovers. It is one of the most natural and patiently developed romances of recent memory. Even though he is a zombie and she is a girl who lost her boyfriend and her mother to this apocalyptic outbreak.
Considering the film is about a love story between two 20-somethings, the movie has a surprisingly juvenile feel to it. By openly emulating Romeo and Juliet as a positive ending to a star-crossed romance and taking advantage of the zombie fad, it makes the movie feel like a cheap cash-in for teenagers who would appreciate a simplistic love story between two people who are trying to be together despite everyone telling them that they shouldn’t.
There isn’t anything ostensibly atrocious about this film. After all, it does take a seldom-used approach to what is fast becoming an over-used mythos, and it does so relatively well. However, the beings that are supposed to be a threat seldom are, the love story itself is trite and predictable and the zombie makeup and effects is disappointing at best.
This would be a good movie for someone wanting to enjoy a delightful teenage rom-com; however, beyond that there isn’t going to conceivably be a great amount of enjoyment in this film. Two and a half stars out of four.