Movie Review: Warm Bodies
Often I try to go into a movie that I’m planning to review as cold as possible, but inevitably I end up gleaning information from advertisements and trailers. Somehow, with Warm Bodies I knew next to nothing aside from it being about zombies. I’m a sucker for zombie movies (as I’m sure you’re probably aware if you’ve read GFBR’s movie coverage for the last two years), which has lead to me seeing some of the coolest horror movies … and some of the worst. It’s my cross to bear, but if there’s a zombie movie in theaters the likelihood of me not seeing it is low. As far as movies set in the zombie apocalypse, Warm Bodies is delightfully charming. Warm Bodies is a movie with a lot of heart, and I don’t mean that in an ironic fashion — it’s a sweetly pleasant movie that just happens to have a cast that includes the walking dead.
Warm Bodies is set some years after the world was beset by a zombie plague. Our hero and narrator, R (Nicholas Hoult), explains that no one knows what caused the zombie uprising but now the world is covered in the walking dead. And R should know, he’s one of them. R spends his days doing what zombies do: shuffling about and looking for brains. But, R’s inner monologue (which frames the film) betrays his monstrous exterior — R thinks about what his life is like, what it used to be (he remembers his name began with the letter R, thus his name), he has a friend (M, played by ex-Daily Show funnyman Rob Corddray) who he spends time with at the airport bar, he collects items, and he listens to music. Not your typical animated corpse.
When R, M, and a gaggle of their corpse associates stumble on a group of humans raiding a pharmacy for medical supplies, he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer). Well, meets isn’t quite right … he attacks the group but becomes infatuated with Julie and brings her back to the airport under his protection. What happens next leads to R and Julie learning what it’s like to live again.
Taking it’s cues from the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet, Warm Bodies plays out like a strange concoction of love story, monster movie, and light comedy. It’s not riotously funny, but strangely enough,, it has a warmth of character that many romantic flicks are lacking. It’s sort of a mixture of Beauty and the Beast, Romeo and Juliet, and Land of the Dead. It’s a very strange mash-up, but it actually works. At points it plays like a very teen coming-of-age story, with R playing surrogate for the shy kid who’s struggling with adolescence and finding himself infatuated with a girl. It’s just that it happens to take place in the apocalypse and the lead is, well … dead. Warm Bodies says things about our humanity, and the bonds we form with others. It’s a smartly written love story taken from a different perspective.
One would think that Nicholas Hoult’s job would be easy, playing the zombie and all, but he has to straddle the line between zombie and human to varying degrees throughout the film. He does a great job of making the brain-eating R sympathetic to the audience. Speaking with other characters outside of his inner monologue, Hoult has to affect a stilted and jerky voice, but he manages to be both warm and funny when the script calls for it.
Palmer’s Julie is a smart girl, who has mostly grown up in a devastated world. As the human half of the duo, Palmer gets to show a broader range of emotions but Hoult does most of the heavy lifting. The two have considerable chemistry and some decent comedic moments. John Malkovich makes an appearance as Julie’s father and the leader of the human community. He’s sort of a less sleazy version of Dennis Hopper’s character from Land of the Dead. A man deadened by a world full of the rising dead and the toll it’s taken on him. Malkovich is as strong as ever, but a relatively minor character in the film.
To make things even sweeter, Warm Bodies manages to present a better (or worse, I suppose I should say) vision of the zombie apocalypse than some zombie horror movies show. Streets are wrecked, littered with corpses, trash, and cars; the humans are holed up in a walled-in section of the city; and there are more degraded versions of the zombies called bonies. These bonies are nightmare fuel — zombies that have decayed to the point where they are little more than animated skeletons with the barest hint of flesh — all instinct and supremely terrifying.
Warm Bodies is a movie that defied my expectations and defies nomenclature: it’s a love story, but with zombies; it’s a coming-of-age tale, but with head shots; it’s a horror movie, but with a message of community. It’s all of these things and more. Where other films might feel diluted by mixing so many genres, Warm Bodies is stronger for the mix. It’s a smart movie that proves that there are still places you can take the modern zombie flick. It’s a trojan horse movie that can appeal to fans of action, horror, and romance genres easily. I never thought I would say this, but it’s a zombie movie … that might be the perfect Valentine’s Day movie as well.