Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jonathan Levine
Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco.
A zombie date movie? A post-apocalyptic love story?
Warm Bodies is both, and offers a fresh twist on the familiar cliches of the zombie film at the same time. It has the same appeal to audiences as some of the other great zombie movies like the marvelous British comedy Shaun Of The Dead and George A Romero’s classic Night Of The Living Dead. And of course HBO’s The Walking Dead has also sparked a renewed interest in all things undead. Warm Bodies is an original, inventive and quite funny genre bending tale of star crossed lovers, a variation on the classic drama Romeo And Juliet that replaces the feuding families the Montagues and the Capulets with zombies and humans.
Warm Bodies is set in a not too distant post-apocalyptic future, where a mysterious virus has reduced much of the world’s population into undead hordes. The human population live inside a heavily fortified walled enclave under the control of the hawkish, paranoid survivalist Grigio (John Malkovich). Grigio feeds the survivor’s fear and hatred of the undead and inculcates a shoot on sight mentality into his heavily armed guards. There is also the “bonies”, rapacious skeletal zombies who will feed on just about anything and are the most feared creatures in this world.
Our guide into this world is a zombie known only as “R” (played by X Men First Class’s Nicholas Hoult), a brooding, introspective undead slacker. His dry and ironic voice over narration brings some touches of dark, sardonic humour to the material. R lives inside an abandoned airplane on an old airport, where he listens to old vinyl records , but basically he is bored with his life. He has a friend in “M” (Rob Corddry), with whom he has a regular sort of conversation where they grunt at each other.
Grigio sends raiding parties out into the zombie wasteland to look for medicines and also to shoot the undead on sight. During one such raiding party, led by Grigio’s daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer), R spots her and instantly develops feelings for her. Of course, his feelings have been intensified by the fact that he has just consumed the brains of Julie’s boyfriend (Dave Franco). Instead of feasting on her blood and brains, he protects her by taking her back to his home. She awakens long forgotten feelings in him, and he slowly begins to transform and get in touch with his lost humanity.
Obviously love does make the world go round and has healing powers. There is even one brief scene here that jokingly references the famous balcony scene from Romeo And Juliet and underscores the obvious influences at work here. Warm Bodies also seems to have been influenced by Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, another film exploring an offbeat romance between a human and a strange outsider who slowly gets in touch with their own humanity.
The film originally began as a short novella published on-line in 2007 by writer Isaac Marion, but it proved to be such a success that the story was turned into a novel. Writer/director Jonathan Levine has established a reputation with his offbeat independent comedies like The Wackness and 50/50, a romantic comedy about a young man with cancer looking for love. Warm Bodies is his most mainstream, commercial and accessible film yet, and he takes a few liberties with the usual zombie lore. And as R changes and becomes more human, Levine refuses to wallow in cheap sentiment. There are some astute music choices on the soundtrack that underscore the themes and drama.
The talented Hoult seems more comfortable playing the emo-like zombie who slowly starts to rediscover his humanity here than he was playing the action hero in the recent special effects heavy Jack The Giant Slayer. He invests his character with a distinctive personality. Hoult’s pretty boy features are thinly disguised under layers of make-up that give him a suitably pasty face and deathly pallor, and he perfects that vacant expression and slow moving shuffle of the undead.
Palmer, who has appeared in films like I Am Number Four, etc, is excellent here as the lovely, captivating and feisty Julie. Hoult and Palmer generate strong chemistry together that makes this relationship convincing. And Malkovich, who has cornered the market on playing highly strung, intense weirdoes, gives a relatively restrained performance here. Corddry is wonderfully deadpan and droll as the wise-cracking best friend M, a familiar role for the comic actor.
Despite the fact that Warm Bodies is dealing with zombies and the undead, there is little overt gore in the film. There is no flab in the film’s brisk 97 minutes running time, and Levine maintains a relatively fast pace throughout this thoroughly enjoyable genre bending splatter zombie horror film/romance. Highly recommended.