When I first heard that there was going to be a movie about a zombie boy falling in love with a human girl, I shuddered. For years, I have been somewhat of a zombie-snob in that I have always felt that the living dead should be slow and silent. However, since the zombie boom in the early 2000s, movies have tried putting their own twist on how a zombie should behave with only a few of them truly succeeding. This brings me back to “Warm Bodies”, because the zombies in this have a little heart, literally, and it works.
R, played by Nicholas Hoult, is a zombie who has no memory of his past at all. Through voiceover we find out that he is just a lonely guy stuck in an airport wondering if there is more to his undead life than becoming a “bonie” (which is when a zombie becomes an emotionless skeleton). After some grunting with his “best friend” (the hilarious Rob Corddry) they decide that they’re hungry and go on the hunt for food. As a small horde of zombies head out for brains, a group of teen humans hit the road to find some supplies to bring back to their walled city. While the humans collect some medicine at a hospital, R and his undead pals attack and eat a few of the teens. When R chows down on the brain of Perry (Dave Franco), he begins to have flashes of memories that include Perry’s girlfriend Julie (Teresa Palmer). R, now feeling a connection to Julie, saves her from the rest of the zombies and takes her back to his airport home. Since ingesting Perry’s brain, R becomes able to say some small words in an attempt to get closer to Julie while keeping her safe in his airplane full of knickknacks he’s collected. While the two bond over R’s vinyl collection, R begins to feel more human and even develops a heartbeat. But after a few days locked in an airplane, Julie wants to go back to her walled city and R reluctantly agrees to escort her in order to keep her safe. Will R become more human along the way? How will Julie’s father (John Malkovich) take the news she’s been saved by a corpse? Will the vicious “bonies” catch them? No matter what, you won’t be disappointed by the outcome.
As I said before, my expectations of the movie were very low. Having only heard that it was a story based on a young adult novel about a zombie and human falling in love, it seemed like a “Twilight” cash-in, but I could not have been more wrong. From the opening exposition voice-over I was won over with its smart and snappy delivery. In just a few minutes, I had a full understanding of the world where this zombie apocalypse takes place and became comfortable with the living dead having an internal monologue (Nicholas Hoult proved he’s good at this way back when he did “About A Boy”). Nevertheless, as we progress through the film and it dives into romantic comedy territory, I found myself not being bothered by it. There are a few moments that seem a bit strange due to the fact that the hero is a corpse trying to woo a living person, but it’s usually done in the sake of comedy and gets a laugh.
Another thing that makes this movie work is the pacing, never wasting it’s time with scenes that don’t progress the story. Not at any point did I feel that I was in the over-brooding world of “Twilight” which is a testament to writer/director Jonathan Levine. Given the source material, he easily could have gone a copycat route and just replaced vampires with zombies, but instead he made a movie that takes a fresh look at the zombie universe. This fresh look works by sticking to the classic look and feel of the living dead at the beginning of the film by portraying them as pale stumblers, and then slowly changing them into characters that are more human by the end. This lets the movie show its respect to what came before while creating its own unique brain-eaters. Moreover, the creatures know as the “bonies”, what’s left of the undead after they give up and continue to deteriorate, were by far the creepiest thing I’ve seen brought to the zombie mythos in a long time.
Therefore, if you are in the mood for a light, fun zombie movie, then “Warm Bodies” is perfect, and a great successor to another great zombie romantic comedy, “Shaun of the Dead”.