Synopsis: After R (a highly unusual zombie) saves Julie from an attack, the two form a relationship that sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world. (Source)
Frankly speaking, you’ll be hard pressed to find zombies and optimism together in the same sentence or thematic stable. Since breaking into the mainstream with the George Romero’s legendary Night of the Living Dead, the living dead metaphor has been a favorite for those wishing to mine the worst and most nihilistic qualities of our flawed human nature. Enter Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies. An adaptation of a novel sharing the same name, the film is a much needed twist on the subject matter and romance for that matter, pulsing with life despite it’s tricky premise and a plethora of things which could’ve easily culminated in a disaster. Instead, Warm Bodies miraculously revives a slowly dying genre with the most deadliest of weapons: heart, laughs and plenty of hope.
In just one of the film’s many clever twists, the story is narrated and centered around a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult). For R, everyday consists of the same thing, wandering the airport and trying to envision what he and his community of undead might’ve been like before they befell their current states. And while R might seem lifeless from the outside, his mind is actually pulsing with thoughts and ideas, he just can’t put them all together or articulate them mentally or physically with any of his “friends”. Then one day, while scavenging for some food (living people), he comes across a group of survivors looking for medical supplies. After an unfortunate event which I dare not spoil, R ends up saving a girl named Julie (Teresa Palmer) and then taking her back to his derelict airplane where he lives. Before you know it, there’s a tricky star-crossed romance (loved the Romeo and Juliet call-outs) involved and something strange begins to happen — R’s heart begins to slowly beat and the two develop a spark which just might the world back to life. What follows is a film that has enough to satiate most horror fans looking for something different and a broad audience in need of a relevant message.
Perhaps the best thing you can say about the film’s story is that it’s undoubtedly one of the most inspired uses of the zombie metaphor we’ve seen in a long while. Sure, it may be too literal for some, but there isn’t anything wrong with that here because it’s conceit is so sincere and genuinely needed. Thankfully more Shaun of the Dead than Twilight, the film underplays it’s central romance to focus it’s story about the importance of human connection. Despite a few contrivances, I was quite surprised at how naturally the love story progressed within the story, with a balance that gave it’s conceit a purpose rather than an empty focus. In addition, the post apocalyptic world depicted here is brilliantly grounded in the internal viewpoint of it’s undead that it feels no different from the world we live in today. For example, people go about the same daily routines, most without really putting much thought into what they’re doing and being completely unable to connect. But don’t let all of this fool you into thinking this is some heavy movie intent on prying your eyes awake by shock and darkness. The film understands the absurdity of it’s zom-rom-com undertones and tastefully manages it’s darker issues to deliver entertainment that’s lighthearted, full of laughs yet not completely devoid of substance.
The film’s other selling point is undoubtedly it’s characters. While R is the only one really fleshed out, the strong cast and their chemistry keeps us wonderfully engaged throughout. In fact, the best parts of the film have to do with character beats. Nicolas Hoult’s R is actually a pretty rad dude who scavenges vinyl and various little chotchkes and there’s a hilarious moment in which R first sees Julie and immediately hears John Waite’s “Missing You” in his head (the film’s soundtrack is amazing by the way). Hoult is a great young actor, and given that most of his audible vocabulary consists of monosyllabic words and responses, he’s great at remaining likable and charismatic as opposed to just being a lovable grunt like Day of the Dead’s Bub. As Julie, Teresa Palmer has a nice chemistry with Hoult and we’re less interested in whether they’ll end up together than how they can help each other see the light in their less-than-ideal situations. The real head turner though is Rob Corddry as the undead M. Though he gets a few laughs, he’s much more believably serious here, as one of R’s friends who begins to “feel” again.
No matter how you slice it, chalk this one up as an achievement for director Jonathan Levine. He’s created a brave little film here, including what’s possibly the best explanation for why zombies eat brains and successfully turning what could’ve been another YA bore into something smart and charming. Warm Bodies is filmmaking with heart, plain and simple, and I’ll gladly take it as Summit’s reparation for Twilight.
Crome Rating: 4/5