Alright, I’m going to admit right off the bat that I went into Warm Bodies a bit of a skeptic. A mainstream romantic-comedy about zombies who start turning back into humans, saved by the power of love? Cue the rainbows, awkward undead advances, and preposterous scene where a female admits she’s in love with a zombie.
I mean, I’m the horror guy – I want to see my zombies ripping hearts out of victims, not grow their own in a conflicted showing of emotion. Again, they’re zombies, how do they have emotions! It goes against everything I’ve been taught by my zombie senseis like George A. Romero! But since Jonathan Levine was in charge, director of the beautiful cancer comedy 50/50 and quirky story The Wackness, all my chips were in the middle on this one. If the dude could make me laugh at a man struggling to deal with his cancer diagnosis, a zombie relationship seemed like a walk…err shamble…in the park.
My first interaction with main zombie character R (Nicholas Hoult) raised many questions I’m sure any genre lover will have. How is he thinking, aren’t zombies braindead? Eating brains gives them memories, not just satiates hunger? Zombies can be cured with nothing but a little tender love and care? They can talk? Yes, there’s enough new think on the zombie backstory here to fry the brains of hardcore Night of the Living Dead fans, but writer Isaac Marion creates a universe unique to Warm Bodies where these horror inconsistencies seem plausible, and Levine translates said universe to screen rather well.
There’s technically two classifications of zombies, Corpses and Boneys, the latter being a more evil type of skeletal zombie which has given in completely to the darker dead side. R on the other hand, a Corpse, has conflicted feelings about actually being a zombie, but still runs through the motions based on instinctive survival. They aren’t as decayed and rotting and are able to interact on a higher cognitive level – being a corpse is almost like being stuck in zombie purgatory.
With that said, I’ll abandon my horror assessment because Warm Bodies is anything but terrifying. In fact, unlike a typical walker, Warm Bodies is rather sweet and full of life, again showing Levine can blend genres like no other director right now. Hell, he got me and two guy friends to show up for a midnight showing of a romantic comedy and not feel like we were on a three way date in the least. I mean, there was that weird moment where I went to grab the popcorn from my buddies lap, but besides that, we all walked out in happy agreement on Levine’s film without losing a shred of masculinity (or so we like to think).
In the relationship between Julie (Teresa Palmer) and R, Nicholas Hoult was tasked with the almost impossible mission if playing a zombie with enough undead personality to lead a film. Normally all walkers can do is groan, eat brains, limp around aimlessly, and stare – not typically endearing enough qualities for a gripping character arc.
Hoult battles said generalizations with proper writing and a funny narration which spans the film (remember, these zombies can still think somewhat), giving us R’s plan versus what his actual zombie body can actually carry out. Sure, he may want to express how Julie is safe with him and will never be eaten, but all he can actually do is mimic biting into her flesh and shake his head “no.” No matter how you slice it, R’s situation was brand spankin’ new to both romance and horror fans, so there was no possible way to cry “stereotype,” but Hoult surely created moments copycat films will surely mimic. I fully approve of zombie Nicholas Hoult!
As for Teresa Palmer, there really wasn’t anything definitive about her character except for her forbidden attraction to a zombified stud. Obviously, for story’s sake, her father just had to be the leader who colonized the surviving humans and will kill any zombie on sight, so you can say Julie was a tad bit hesitant to bring her new boy-toy home – even if something magical was happening. Julie herself had to stay suspicious of R’s actions anyway, because, well, he does eat brains, but becomes trusting and helps R grow emotionally to the best of his fuzzy insides. Who says the undead can’t learn to love again (besides the droves of directors before Jonathan Levine). Teresa Palmer was a major part of R’s transformation, and even though she could have been substituted with any other hot young actress, Palmer had a spunk I rather adored, and watching her kick zombie ass was something I can do time and time again.
As for our supporting cast, Rob Corddry (M) stands out as a hilarious sidekick to R, leading the newly touched zombies to follow in R’s footsteps. Some of the best lines in Warm Bodies were delivered by Corddry, summarizing grand statements in only a word or two because of his zombification. Again, he isn’t given a ton to work with, being dead and all, but does tremendously well with creating a character out of nothing but some typically cardboard monster.
John Malkovich on the other hand is his usual self, but much like Palmer, could have been substituted with numerous actors of the same ilk. Unlike Palmer though, it didn’t have to be Malkovich being a zombie-hating hardass parent, but I always respect the man for what he does and am a huge fan. I’m happy they went with Malkovich personally because of that, but would have been just as happy had another actor been plugged in.
Jumping back to my horror side though, I did immensely appreciate all the little nods to past horror films Warm Bodies threw in, be something as simple as showing the DVD for Lucio Fulci’s Zombie or something more implied like R’s constant commentary about typical everyday zombie knowledge. Be it mocking the sluggish pace they walk or commenting how no one knows how the apocalypse actually came about, but for a film lacking any real horror or violence us zombie fans are used to, a good amount of respect was paid to the films which paved the way for Warm Bodies.
Nothing makes me happier than a film which takes chances though, and Warm Bodies is absolutely one of the most unique renditions of forbidden love ever imagined. The premise really shouldn’t work with so many people already having a negative correlation to the idea of zombies, but it works so well, one can’t ignore how perfect of a date movie Levine’s film turns out to be. Sure, I wasn’t laughing to the extent of 50/50 or shedding a tear for unfathomable teen romance, but I was entirely more invested in a story I figure would have been easily laughed off. Almost like some sick Shakespearean tale of love, we’re thrust into a world of decay and disapproval, but it turns out some races (are zombies a race?) are just misunderstood. The protective father, the love-struck male, the bewildered love interest – it’s all there, it just smells like a rotting carcass.
Yes, Warm Bodies absolutely won over the die-hard horror lover and mainstream moviegoer in me, albeit with unconventional delivery. Would I have liked a darker rendition of scarier Boneys and more devastating attacks? Of course. Am I happy with the more independent feel and character-centric focus Levine’s film takes? Absolutely. If you think dating is hard enough, try being a zombie with terrible hygiene, worse clothes, minimal speech, and an unhealthy lust for brains. But hell, if even they can find love, what’s that say for all the hopeless romantics out there? While I don’t suggest turning into a zombie to find that special someone, Warm Bodies will surely soften the core of anyone expecting a film too far-fetched to work.
With Warm Bodies, zombie fans finally have a film that their romantic-comedy-loving partners can sit through easily and that they can enjoy together.