(Published on Lost In The Multiplex)
Directed by Jonathan Levine, Warm Bodies follows the developing relationship between a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult) and a human called Julie (Teresa Palmer), who is the daughter of the leader of the human survivor group, Colonel Grigio (John Malkovich). After saving her from an attack that takes the life of her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and leaving behind her best friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton), R takes a sudden attraction to Julie that his corpse-like self doesn’t quite know how to handle. As Julie begins to see that R is different from the other zombies, the two form a special relationship that set in motion a sequence of events that might transform their entire lifeless world for the better.
Based on Isaac Marion‘s novel of the same name, Warm Bodies follows an interesting story and takes a unique approach to the genre as it is told from the perspective of a zombie. We’ve seen zombies die in every way possible over the years, with directors mixing the genre with gore, violence, comedy, and sometimes even a little bit of fun, but this time around it’s time to actually care about them.
Narrated by R, although he is unable to communicate aside from the occasional grunt, we are introduced to this apocalyptic world through this zombie’s inner monologue. We’re not told exactly why this apocalyptic world has come into place because, as the film suggests, we’ve heard most of the reasons all before. Instead, we are described the day-to-day ongoings of what zombies actually get up to now that the humans have separated their worlds apart. And that’s not a lot. Fortunately, R meets an attractive young lady to make his days a little more worthwhile, and this is where Levine cleverly begins to blend comedy, romance, and mild horror, to make this successfully entertaining “zom-rom-com”.
The main source of comedy comes from R’s narration itself, and this is also where the film stands out as something brilliantly different straight away. Because of the zombie perspective, we get to see a new side to their characters, as R reminds himself not to appear too creepy and constantly comments on his slow pace. Warm Bodies may not be hilarious, but it makes you laugh in all the right places and the addition of the occasional giggle is what makes the film so warming.
Which leads us to the romance. Alluding to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the two sides of this apocalyptic world – the alive and the undead – coming together, as the leads become star-crossed lovers in their very own Verona, this romance will be one of the main reasons that you will either really want to see this or not at all. “Not another pretty face (who actually looks like Kristen Stewart) falling in love with an undead mythical being”, you may think, but Warm Bodies is far from it. Whilst the film does have its similarities, it has enough distance to be able to call this film a great piece of film-making whilst the other is just an enjoyable fantasy for teenage girls.
What makes Warm Bodies excel is its realistic characters, despite the film’s very unrealistic premise. With a focus on some of these characters specific traits, in particular R’s self-conscious fears of appearing ‘too creepy’ and Julie’s determination to escape back home despite how tempted she is and her genuine refusal to go along with it at the beginning, their character structures help make this fictional story not so ridiculous or unbelievable, and instead make it incredibly easy to find the leads likeable because of their almost relatable emotions. The romance does become a little too sentimental in places, however, lacking any real passion and, instead, coming off too cutesy for it to allow it to avoid the Twilight comparisons completely, but it never leaves you turning away in disgust.
As for the casting, it’s a treat to see Nicholas Hoult in a lead role finally. Although there wasn’t a lot expected of him as a mumbling zombie, it was a brilliant transitional character for him to take on, as an actor mainly known for his role in the British TV series Skins, and I can’t wait to see more of him over the year. Fresh face Teresa Palmer, as well, gives her breakout performance, and the couple’s chemistry is extremely well-matched which what really lifts this film off the ground.
With Rob Corddry as R’s funny best friend, Dave Franco as the sweet [ex] boyfriend, Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s adorably witty best friend, and John Malkovich as her father, the supporting cast is surprisingly decent too. All of their performances are brilliant, coming together as another well-compacted quality of this film that helps to step it up from being just an average and unforgettable zombie comedy.
On top of all of this, Warm Bodies is generally a visually appealing film. The camera work is fantastic, but my favourite thing of all is the killer soundtrack, filled with a number of brilliant tracks including M83’s Midnight City, Bon Iver’s Hinnom, TX, and Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart.
When all of this is brought together, Warm Bodies is a very tight film that’s hard to fault. I loved it, and as long as you’re not expecting a zombie horror then you should too. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was still in my Top 20 by the end of the year.