When we think of romanticized horror monsters, we mostly think of vampires. Whether it be “Twilight” or the Lestat novels by Anne Rice (the most famous being “Interview with the Vampire”), vampires have a long history of being romantic when they aren’t too preoccupied with being vicious blood-suckers. Zombies have not had the same luxury. Throughout their long history in film, zombies have been treated as mindless hordes that are oftentimes just plot devices to explore other themes. However, the new zombie movie “Warm Bodies” looks to shake up the zombie formula by showing a side of the flesh-eaters that we weren’t privy to.
Despite not remembering his name, R is a zombie with a pretty well adjusted life. In his spare time, he has taken up residence inside an abandoned airplane where he gathers possessions from a lost world to pass the time. See in this world, zombies aren’t totally mindless; they are just limited in their verbal communication skills and are shackled by the need to consume human flesh. When a group of humans venture out on a medicine run and the zombies fight with them in heated battle, R takes notice of tough girl Julie. After eating the brains of her boyfriend, R gains the memories of their relationship and manages to save Julie from being eaten by his friends. After taking her back to his place in order to keep her safe, he begins having feelings towards her, even with the obvious barriers keeping them apart.
As “Warm Bodies” continues on, the allusions to “Romeo and Juliet” become more obvious as the story moves forward. If you still did not catch them after the blatant homage to the famous balcony scene, then perhaps you should brush up on your Shakespeare. But the movie doesn’t slavishly devote itself to repeating the well-travelled beats of the classic story. Also, surprisingly for a zombie movie, it establishes a much more light and sweet tone. R’s internal monologue smoothly introduces us to this world with deadpan humor, and the combination of Nicholas Hoult’s performance and writer/director Jonathon Levine’s script gives the movie its own particular identity.
When separated from his inner thoughts, Hoult has to create an entire character out of mannerisms and facial expressions. The subtle touches he incorporates go a long way in helping the audience identify with him and his tragic existence. Despite barely being able to speak, the relationship and chemistry between him and Teresa Palmer is very believable. Palmer bares a more-than-passing resemblance to Kristen Stewart, but she is much more effective at creating an angst-ridden yet likable love interest than her more famous counterpart often is. Rob Corddry and Analeigh Tipton are also nice highlights as R and Julie’s best friends respectively, with Corddry even getting a couple unexpectedly touching scenes.
Even though this is a PG-13 zombie movie, which I would usually say is heresy, Levine is cleverly able to accomplish a decent amount of carnage without treading into the R rating that would restrict his target audience. The zombie attack scenes don’t feel too constrained and tamed by the rating (though they don’t reach the levels of gore you would expect from zombies) and the final battle with the “Bonies” (super decomposed zombies with only their hunger for flesh) is a well-constructed action set piece. Where Levine stumbles is in the plot developments he introduces once the other zombies learn of R and Julie’s relationship. Without spoiling anything, the ideas presented fit with the humorous and romantic tone, but their execution feels rushed and rather vague in the explanation, requiring some suspension of disbelief. Likewise, the concept of R gaining Julie’s boyfriend’s memories is intriguing yet underdeveloped. The movie makes it appear as if R is the only zombie with this ability, and pushes away the implications of all the other ones possessing this too. It would have been nice to see Corddry’s character experience this too.
Still, “Warm Bodies” hits the right targets it aims for, namely the dry humor, characters, and romantic bond between its two leads. If you were a fan of Levine’s previous movie, “50/50,” “Bodies” contains the same qualities that made that one such a treat too, just with more dead bodies and a more prevalent high concept hook. Valentine’s Day may have passed but its appeals can still be felt without a holiday to boost them up.