It was hard to find a pair of non-rolling eyes when the concept of Warm Bodies was first said out loud. A zombie romantic comedy? Either it’s an earnest, poorly thought out attempt to capitalize on the combined popularity of zombies and Twilight, or it’s a joke, plain and simple, and will probably be of “Scary Movie 6” quality at best.
As it turns out, the films is neither. It’s based on a book by Isaac Marion that examines a question that few, if any, zombie stories ever bother to address. What if zombies could become human again?
There’s always talk of a cure, but no one ever actually finds one. Maybe they were looking in all the wrong places, maybe all the zombies needed was to be treated a little bit…human again.
That’s the core concept behind Warm Bodies, a film that can be officially declared as another zombie comedy success in the wake of new era classics like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. But this film isn’t about the comedic decapitating of the living dead. With a PG-13 rating, there’s little blood at all.
Just one little drop on his shirt there.
Rather we’re put in the shoes of one of the undead, a young zombie named R….something (Nicholas Hoult). He can’t remember, so R it is. Through internal narration, we hear what it’s like to be a zombie, to shuffle around aimlessly without the ability to communicate. R has a friend named M (Rob Corddry), but the extent of their conversations are maybe one word at best. “Hungry,” in one case.
The film breaks the bounds of traditional zombie lore by allowing R to speak. At first he can only manage a word or two, but from his internal thoughts, we realize that he’s got a fully functioning brain. He just can’t express that, and still has an uncontrollable hunger for human flesh.
One fine day R is wandering around with his zombie posse when he comes across a ground of human survivors. His pack attacks, and both sides take loses, with R ending up feasting on the brains of a young man named Perry (Dave Franco). Here we learn another tip about zombies in this universe. When you eat brains, you get to live through some of that person’s memories like you’re taking a psychotropic drug. As R munches on Perry’s cerebral cortex, he meets Julie, the boy’s girlfriend who happens to be a few feet away, frozen in terror.
It instills R with a desire to protect Julie (Teresa Palmer), and from his internal monologue, we learn of his developing crush on her. He smears zombie goop on her and escorts her safely back to zombie HQ at the local airport. There, they both discover that as their relationship grows, so does R’s ability to become vaguely human again.
Zombie purists may not appreciate the film because of its many egregious violations of traditional zombie rules. R has a functioning brain (albeit with a bit of memory loss), learns to speak rather quickly and collects and plays records in his airplane bedroom. Dawn of the Dead this not, and in truth, few of the zombies even look all that decrepit. Most just seem like they just woke up after long night of partying.
But that all plays into the central idea of the film. This concept that the world can be saved through love, not bullets. It’s cheesy sure, but the film is funny, and has some genuine emotion to it. It’s a fresh look at a world we thought we knew at this point, and the only zombie film I’ve seen that dares to do something truly different with the concept.
“Sooo, any girls in your life?”
The film owes much to its director Jonathan Levine, who is quite adept at finding the heart in deadly situations as he did with his previous cancer comedy, 50/50. And Nicholas Hoult is simply fantastic as R, somehow managing to have great comedic timing despite his limited vocabulary. It’s hard work creating a zombie a girl might actually have a crush on, but Hoult is more than up to the task, blending scary and adorable using just the right proportions.
It’s just nice to see something different out of a genre that’s being done to death at the moment (no pun intended). No, it might not meet your daily serving of gore quota, but it’s a pretty fantastic little film that may end up warming your own human heart a little bit.
4 out of 5 stars