Zombie Cinema: Tales of Grue Romance

And for our third and final foray into the world of the living (loving) dead, as portrayed on celluloid, here are a couple of films that come with an element of romance mixed into the brew.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

If I remember correctly, this was billed as a zom-rom-com on release, and that’s fair enough – it has zombies, romance, and comedy. Simon Pegg plays Shaun, the apotheosis of the under achiever – he is disrespected at work, disrespected by his flat mate, disrespected by his mother’s new partner, and girlfriend Liz dumps him because all they ever do is go to local watering hole The Winchester, and she wants more from life. The only person who stays loyal is his sponger best mate Ed. Then the zombie apocalypse occurs and Shaun comes into his own, hatching a plan to save his mum and Liz by taking them to The Winchester. I have mixed feelings about this. It’s not really possible to take it seriously as regards the zombie outbreak, but this does afford the characters plenty of opportunity for comedic scenes of zombie slaughter and inventive mayhem. Alongside this there is plenty of satire of borderline yuppie mentality, seen in flat mate Pete and Shaun’s work colleagues, with slacker ethos winning out over those who take work and related stuff more seriously. And, dropping the comedy for a moment, the scene in which Shaun has to decide what to do with his zombie bitten mother almost touches a genuine emotional nerve. Against all this, I found the character of Ed to be obnoxious beyond toleration, and wasn’t that taken with loser Shaun either – Liz should have dumped the guy long before now. Their unappealing natures took some of the joy out of their eventual triumph (somewhat ironic in the case of Ed, whose flaws are resolved by having him changed into a zombie). I liked it, but wasn’t as impressed as I felt I should be given its rating on places like imdb and rotten tomatoes.

Warm Bodies (2013)

Told from the perspective of R, a zombie whose stomping ground is an airport, and set several years after the zombie apocalypse, by and large this film is a reinvention of Romeo and Juliet, with feuding zombies and humans in lieu of Montagues and Capulets. R is starting to have feelings again, a trend that is enhanced when he devours the brains of the living and absorbs their memories. Having feasted on her boyfriend, he feels mysteriously compelled to protect Julie from the other zombies, and even follows her back into the walled enclave run by her disciplinarian father. As the plague of emotions spreads to other zombies, there is a chance that the world could recover from the apocalypse and they can regain human status, but first R must convince Julie’s father of what is happening and then humans and zombies must join forces against the threat of the Boneys. It’s all pretty much predictable, but done with such warmth and panache that I couldn’t help being won over, despite recognising the constraints in the material (e.g. R and Julie don’t kiss until he’s fully human again, as presumably the intended audience wouldn’t be at all comfortable with what is, in effect, necrophilia). Nicholas Hoult’s voice over as R is a convincing portrayal of somebody trying to come to terms with a new way of life, realising that his humanity is returning and struggling to fight against the instincts that urge him to eat human flesh. There’s muted excitement as he rescues Julie (Teresa Palmer), and then some genuine feelings as they discover each other’s musical likes, with the young woman slowly coming to trust R and see that there is more to the zombies than her father’s shoot first philosophy will allow. The scene where R reveals that he has eaten her previous boyfriend’s brain is dealt with convincingly, with Julie repelled and then moving on to the decision to forgive him. The Boneys are engaging bad guys and a convenient pretext for men and zombies to come together, providing an epic battle at the film’s end, as prelude to the sentimentality informing the message that love can conquer all, even living death. Overall it’s an amusing and entertaining variation on the zombie theme, with two leads who most definitely have an on-screen chemistry, and enough charm to make me forgive the saccharine overload of the film’s subtext. I think of the zombie films I’ve watched recently it is, zits and all, my undoubted favourite, which is probably proof that I’m getting soft in my old age. Actually, I’ve always been a softie at heart; it’s just that I no longer hide it as well.

Okay people, seen any good zombie films of late?

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6 Responses to Zombie Cinema: Tales of Grue Romance

  1. Hi, Pete. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead wasn’t that bad, and of course “not that bad” is a teeming Petri dish, but we did enjoy it, zombies’ exhalations used to fuel vehicles as an alternate fuel source, as well as several inventive scenes; I do wish someone would turn Silverberg’s “Born with the Dead” into a movie, I love the grayness and slowness of that novella, it’s a different take on the idea of the undead in our living world. I did enjoy Shaun, especially the scene of him walking across the road where he lives to get something from a refrigerated cabinet at his local shop, oblivious to the zombie mayhem going on around him. I always admire that technical finesse.

    • petertennant says:

      Never heard of “Wyrmwood”, Rob, but you make it sound intriguing, so will keep an eye out. I’ve read a truckload of books by Silverberg, and “Born With the Dead” certainly sounds familiar, but that aside I can’t remember it at all. To paraphrase, too many books, too much time.

  2. Ray Cluley says:

    We have similar feelings here, I think. I enjoyed Shaun of the Dead but I don’t quite get why others seem to love it as much as they do. Warm Bodies, on the other hand, I didn’t expect to like as much as I did – I thought it quite charming, oddly. I think it may have even been made from a self-published novel? I’ll have to check that. But whatever, it was fun and refreshingly different.

    I haven’t tried much by way of new zombie films lately (and I’m still waaaay behind with The Walking Dead) – I tend to revisit my favourites when the urge for dead things strikes. I did like World War Z probably more than I should have, and I’m a fan of the Dawn of the Dead remake, too. Those are still probably my most recent ones.

    • Hi Ray, I do think the never-ending follow after us of more and more zombie movies/TV shows is eventually going to surround us and drag our limbs down, since admittedly so many of them bite, but when there is a good zombie drama, it does still hold power. I agree with you on the remake of Dawn of the Dead, the opening is magnificent, as is the opening of 28 Weeks Later, especially the music, and I know you love soundtracks. I guess I might be enjoying The Walking Dead a bit more than you. Admittedly, it is a show where the cinematography is sometimes more engaging than the writing (there should be a word for that), but I do enjoy the slow, painful dribble away in the protagonist, of humanity. The best zombie dramas, to me, are not about the bitten, but the unbitten.

      • petertennant says:

        Hi Ray – just checked, and the author Isaac Marion had three self-published novels under his belt, but “Warm Bodies” was his first to be picked up by a mainstream publisher.

        Anyone seen “Life After Beth”, which looks to be coming from the same place as “Warm Bodies”.

        I also liked “The Dawn of the Dead” remake very much, though for sheer living dead fun I’d have to hand the rosette to “Zombieland”.

  3. Ray Cluley says:

    I know what you mean, Rob. And I’ve just started rewatching The Walking Dead from the beginning – I’m enjoying it much more second time around (and I always did like Rick). The show also has a great soundtrack.

    Good call, Pete – Zombieland is a great film, I thoroughly enjoyed that. In fact, I enjoy it quite often. As for Life After Beth, I’ve not seen it yet but I’ve heard positive things in a ‘surprisingly good’ kind of way.

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