Directed by Jonathon Levine
Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language.
One of the most bizarre trends in film in the past decade has been our love of the undead. Not just “Oh, I love movies about the undead!”, more like “I have fallen in love with a creature that has ceased to be and then risen from the dead! What a stud!”. We all know who to thank for that. Another insanely popular trend as of late are zombies. Between games like Left 4 Dead and Robert Kirkman‘s acclaimed comic series The Walking Dead (as well as the television show), zombie fever has spread like…well…a zombie plague. So, what happens when you mix the chocolate that is the paranormal romance genre and the peanut butter of the zombie genre? Warm Bodies.
Based on the novel of the same name by Issac Marion, Warm Bodies tells the story of two star-crossed lovers – R and Julie. Though they aren’t being the most clever nod to the famous Shakespeare characters, they have a slightly different problem – That being R is a shambling zombie who has just eaten Julie’s boyfriend’s brains. While not the greatest way to introduce oneself, it sparks something within R that could change the fate of the entire world.
The first thing that needs to be made abundantly clear about Warm Bodies is that it does not feature the conventional take on the undead. Instead of shambling about, occasionally moaning and simply feasting on the living, the zombies in this film are capable of sprinting, sputtering out the occasional word or two and even maintaining a self-deprecating inner monologue. Although many zombie purists will most undoubtedly be turned of by them, it actually is a quite pleasant change of pace compared to the barrage of undead that has been seen in the media over the past few years, and it helps the audience feel some sympathy for them as well. This is something that is very crucial since the majority of the film is from the zombies’ perspective – how they see life and interact with it – and without adding these more human-like qualities, the film would be in trouble from the start.
But what really helps sell the zombies as sympathetic characters is the great performance by Nicholas Hoult (aka Beast from X-Men First Class) as R. He has a pretty big challenge in the fact that for about half of the film his acting relies heavily his nonverbals and body language, and he handles it all quite well. As the film progresses and the film’s larger revelations begin to take place, Hoult is allowed to do a bit more, but he still manages to utilize these subtle quirks and ticks that really make him a good protagonist–to the point that you really do begin to root for and care about, even if he looks like a disgusting piece of rotting meat. The other huge strength of his performance comes from his inner-monologue that pops in from time-to-time. It is delivered with an amusingly sharp wit with a tinge of disgust at what he has become, and offers the viewer a rare look at what the thoughts of a zombie might be. Many of the film’s better jokes are found within these voice-overs, as they mock various genre conventions as well as remind us of many pratfalls we deal with when we fall in love.
Palmer also manages to do a good job as Julie who, unlike her counter-part within the genre, manages to come off as a strong and intelligent character with depth. Rather than immediately falling for R, she is repulsed by him at the beginning and wants nothing to do with him. This seems like something that a logical human being would do, and Palmer behaves exactly how we would expect somebody who has an admirer who is a zombie. While we do get the tiring terrified damsel routine from her early on, as the film goes on we begin to see a more rounded and interesting performance and her affection for him grows subtly, from amusement to genuine care – and even though this is a ludicrous pairing – it all feels naturally developed and never rushed. The chemistry between Hoult and Palmer is fun to watch grow, and they really become one of the film’s greatest strengths.
Another plus for the film is its fantastic supporting cast which features the always solid John Malkovich as Palmer’s paranoid father and Dave Franco as her ill-fated boyfriend. But the actor who really manages to steal the show is Rob Corddry. While the casting of the comedian could have backfired given his usual over-the-top performances, Corddry is outstanding as R’s “friend” M. While, yes, he is funny, he also manages to be a character the audience can care for as his actions, while basic at first, become more and more motivated by a genuine concern for his friend. And this is the case with the majority of the characters in Warm Bodies – they all are able to feature enough depth that you are able to make a connection with them and gain an understanding of where they come from, and that facilitates our ability to care what happens next.
While there are many things to like about this film, it still falls flat in some areas. The CG enemies of the film, the Bonies, can sometimes range from ‘Okay looking’ to ‘Uncomfortably noticeable CG’, something that is painfully evident is any of the action sequences. They play a large part, especially in the climax of the film, but they manage to take away a bit of the film’s charm with something that feels a little too fake. Perhaps relegating them more to the dark and less close-up shots or shots of the running could have smoothed this issue over, but in the final product it is just a tad too much.
However, the biggest issue I had with the film came in the film’s major revelations about the epidemic. Without saying too much, the resolution of the problem was a little too eye-rollingly cheesy. While I understand that the film needs to oblige to the traditional rom-com formula, they could have gone another route that would have offered the same conclusion without the overly sweet metaphor. In fact, the film’s resolution raises more questions than it answers, including how exactly the outbreak began. Although the movie states that its origin is irrelevant by that point, I really would like to know, just to wrap my head around the ending a bit more. Sadly, it does not give us this opportunity, and we are left with a saccharine aftertaste that makes you feel like Wilford Brimley when all is said and done.
Warm Bodies is a very charming and fun film that – while having a few larger flaws that detract from the overall experience – will honestly be a great date film as Valentine’s Day rolls around. It has all the romance and quirkiness of a romantic comedy for her and some intense action and violent zombie attacks for him. It is a win-win. Zombie purists may want to avoid it however, as the filmmakers do take many liberties with the creatures to make them more human-like, which may be seen as missing the point and polluting the genre with a Twilight-esque twist. However, in a period when the zombie trend is starting to get boring, it is nice to see things from another perspective and that avoids all of the traps that make the vampire romance films as unbearable as they are. It is a cute and funny movie that never gets too carried away with itself and it is worth a look for those wanting a simple and fun movie-going experience.
Warm Bodies Theatrical Trailer