1. Have Bigger Stakes Than the Relationship
One of the best parts of watching the courtship of the zombie and the girl he loves is the fact that almost from the very beginning their love isn’t just about them. Not to spoil the plot (which, to be honest, the trailer kind of did already), but as R and Julie get closer, the world gets slightly less overrun with brain-hungry monsters. Teen love on the screen is often showed as a force that completely overtakes the couple, which can ring true — but more often than not, just gets old for an audience.
2. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Soundtrack
Great teen movies know how to use a song. It’s almost impossible to hear “Milkshake” without the thinking first glimpse of Regina’s house in Mean Girls or “Fascinating New Thing” without picturing the 10 Things I Hate About You’s paintball fight. From the dramatic Feist song to get in the mood for a slow zombie march to “Missing You” getting funnier every time it pops up, Warm Bodies uses the right songs to save moments that otherwise could have fallen flat.
3. Get Creative with the Kiss
Not all on-screen lip-locks can be exciting, and living in a world on the brink of total annihilation definitely ups the potential for dramatic tension, but a lack of a life-or-death situations is no reason to have another first kiss in the back of a car.
4. Include a Strong Female Lead
It’s inevitable that Warm Bodies is going to be compared to Twilight. R, like Edward, does repeat like a broken record his desire to keep Julie safe (to be fair, for most of the movie, R has his powers of speech limited from his zombie-ness, while the sparkly vampire has no excuse). What makes the dynamic so different here is Julie’s resourcefulness. She accepts R’s help only after her expertly wielded gun runs out of ammo, and she’s not afraid to get back into harm’s way without taking R along to protect her. Beyond the argument that strong female leads set a better example for the teen girls watching them, a passive protagonist is just so much less interesting.
5. Adults Don’t Have to Be Parents or Even Teachers
The funniest character in Warm Bodies, hands down, is R’s best friend M, who was at least middle-aged before he got zombified. It’s true that being dead takes down a lot of the social barriers that would prevent a teen and a fortysomething from being friends in a non-apocalyptic world, but that doesn’t mean realistic teen movies can’t think out of the box. There’s always the indie-bookstore owner who totally gets the high schooler into Vonegaut, the thirtysomething retail boss, and the old man who’s always waiting at the bus stop.
6. Use Zombies Sparingly
The “zombie as a love interest” plot is not destined to become a classic teen-flick trope. It worked for Warm Bodies not only because it was handled well, but because it’s new. This time it was easy to go along with walking dead that don’t really look any worse for wear than people who have pulled a few all-nighters, but next time viewers won’t be as forgiving.