Warm Bodies is a simple love story, complicated by the small detail that one half of the romantic couple is dead. Have you ever had a crush on someone so bad, you had trouble even forming words around them? Well you should try walking, or perhaps lurching a mile in the shoes of R (Nicholas Hoult) . R is a zombie that appears to still be capable of having human thoughts. While R assures us that corpses can’t think, his play by play narration seems to contradict him. Either way, as R wanders aimlessly around his neighborhood (an airport, complete with zombified guard that still knows to wand people as they walk through the metal detectors) we are given insight into what really drives him. He’s lonely.
R does have a friend, sort of. Sometimes he sits, stares, and grunts at M (Rob Corddry), a fellow zombie, but the friendship is far from satisfying. R has his own home: an airplane that he’s stocked with a nifty collection of knick-knacks from days past. It’s clear from the beginning that R is not the purely savage zombies we’ve come to know in film, and he’s definitely nothing like the “bonies” in Warm Bodies, walking skeletons that have shredded themselves of all humanity and embraced the joys of eating flesh. R does eat people, but he doesn’t like himself for it. The only part of it he does enjoy is eating his victims’ brains. Rather than being a purely disgusting act, eating one’s brain in this world imbues you with the memories of the victim. R loves this because it makes him feel alive again.
In a hunt for food, R and a gang of hungry zombies encounters a band of humans on a mission to collect medicine. It is here that we get our love at first sight moment. As his friends feed, R spots Julie (Teresa Palmer), a pretty blonde with a shotgun. After feeding on her boyfriend (a guy’s gotta eat), R softly confronts Julie and manages to bring the defenseless girl back to his airplane home. It is here where Warm Bodies shows its true heart. Julie doesn’t become an addition to his collection. Instead, she’s someone for him to share these wonderful trinkets of the past with. While the situation is ridiculous, there’s an instant relatibility with R and his inability to properly converse with Julie. At one point he thinks that he must stop staring at her because he’s being creepy. How many lovestruck guys out there have caught themselves in the exact situation? It’s funny here because he’s a zombie, but it isn’t strictly a zombie problem. To make things even more complicated, Julie’s dad (John Malkovich) happens to be the gun-toting leader of the remaining humans, content to shoot corpses without a second thought. Talk about making a bad first impression on your girlfriend’s dad.
Upon first hearing about Warm Bodies, one may roll their eyes and think that it’s just following in the footsteps of Twilight, which also features a relationship about a living/non-living couple (Both films were produced by Summit Entertainment). Once you see the movie, you’ll see that comparing it to Twilight is completely unfounded and insulting to the makers of Warm Bodies. This is a genuinely sweet film that, shockingly, makes you care about the characters involved. Whereas Edward and Bella of Twilight do nothing but mope and talk about loving each other without actually showing it, R and Julie actually feel like a real couple. They begin awkwardly, not really knowing how to interact. But over time they have dates of sorts, in which they spend time together, get to know each other, and actually have fun! What a novel idea!
What makes this relationship so real is not just the clever writing and direction of Jonathan Levine (director of the criminally under-appreciated 50/50), but also the solid work of leads Hoult and Palmer. You may think that Hoult wouldn’t have too much to do outside of stumbling around and groaning, but there is a beautiful subtlety in his work here as the allegedly mindless R. His gaze is mostly blank, but with simple eye movements and the occasional almost smile, Hoult creates a sympathetic young man who could easily just be tongue-tied. Nevermind the lack of heartbeat. R’s catch phrase throughout the film is “keep you safe”, and every time he says it, it gains more and more meaning as we share time with him and Julie. Palmer’s face may draw comparisons to the expressionless Kristen Stewart, but aside from similar facial features, the two have little in common. Palmer shares excellent chemistry with Hoult, with warm-hearted affection following up her initial hesitance towards the flesh-hungry being. Also exceptional here is Corddry, who gives a surprisingly touching performance as R’s friend.
While our protagonist may move at the speed of sloth, Warm Bodies only has a few slow moments. For most of the film, we’ve always got something to enjoy, whether it’s taking a zombie film trope and turning it on its head or appreciating some of the several obvious references to Romeo & Juliet. It’s not perfect, and at the start you may worry that there won’t be enough material to sustain a feature length film, but once Warm Bodies gets going, it’s hard to deny it’s charms. Personally, I haven’t enjoyed a modern romantic comedy this much since (500) Days Of Summer.
My Rating (8/10)