Review: Warm Bodies – A heartwarming break from undead conventions
I thought I would probably hate the new zombie movie, Warm Bodies, a film that unabashedly discounts over fifty-years of established undead mythology and gives us walking dead monsters that not only think, but are able to speak and feel emotions. But I’m surprised and happy to say that this heartwarming movie completely won me over and is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
I know there will be horror purists out there who will rail against this movie – and for the first twenty to thirty minutes of the film I was one of them – not because it is bad cinematically, but because it is breaking every rule of the zombie zeitgeist. But ultimately Warm Bodies’ marvelous wit and unique charm forced me to acquiesce and enjoy the film on its own terms and accept that just maybe there’s room to expand and improve on undead traditions.
The story begins several years after the zombie apocalypse and survivors are living in part of a city cordoned off by a giant wall that separates them from the undead. The community is run by General Grigio (John Malkovich) who sends armed patrols out among the zombies to gather supplies and intelligence.
The General’s daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco – brother of James) are part of a recon team when they are attacked by a herd of zombies that includes “R” (Nicholas Hoult – who played Beast in X-Men: First Class), the reluctant zombie “hero” of Warm Bodies.
R – who I thought of as “Arrrrr” until I saw the name listed in the end credits – spends his day zombie-stumbling around an undead infested airport, contemplating (in voice-over) his predicament and periodically attempting to communicate with his undead brothers; in particular his friend “M” (Rob Corddry) – who I imagined as a Frankenstein-like, “Mmmmm.”
When R and his pals attack Julie’s group, he ends up eating Perry’s brains and absorbs most of the young man’s memories, especially those regarding his girlfriend. So instead of attacking Julie, he becomes enamored with her and protects the beautiful girl from the other walkers by sliming her up with zombie juice so the other ghouls can’t smell her and then leads her back to the airplane that he lives in on the airport tarmac.
The handsome young zombie can only communicate in short guttural words at first and performs most of his communication through music played on an old vinyl record turntable that he has hooked up in his “airplane pad.” R ironically explains that he prefers vinyl over an iPod because it “sounds more alive;” and his music, which includes Shelter from the Storm by Bob Dylan, Missing You by John Waite and Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen, makes up a fantastic soundtrack for this film.
As R and Julie become close, the romantic zombie regains more and more of his humanity and the couple’s relationship gives hope to the other zombies as well and begins to have a healing effect on them; except for the “bonies,” who are zombies that have shed their human skin and tossed off their last remaining mortal coils to become true monsters.
When R and his friends attempt to return Julie to her home, they not only face the “bonies,” but also the humans who want to kill them. Against all odds the unlikely couple’s love must prevail and potentially save the human (and inhuman) race in the process – and somehow this improbable movie makes it all work wonderfully.
Written & directed by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) and based on the popular novel by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies is a basically a romantic comedy with a horror twist, but it also borrows from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (take note of the names R & Julie.) It mashes up an almost perfect balance of genre horror (light on the gore) with dark comedy and opposites-attract romance. But it is also much deeper than your typical romance or horror film in that it metaphorically speaks to the cold indifference of our current world and the invigorating power of love.
Good movies rely on good story arcs and on characters who are allowed to grow and change over the course of the film’s narrative. But it’s not very often that you find yourself, as a viewer, literally changed in emotional parallel with the characters on the screen. Silly as it may sound, I found my attitude towards fictional zombies completely transformed by this movie.
Warm Bodies works very well on many different levels and it has something for everyone, from Twilight teens (but this is infinitely better than Twilight), to the chick-flick crowd and those who love thought-provoking comedy. And I think even the most hardcore horror fans will love this film if they give it half a chance.