As part of the zombie season on The Cinephiliacs we review a different type of zombie-centric flick, Warm Bodies based on the novel by Isaac Marion. Following in the footsteps of other zombie standout Shaun of the Dead, this movie manages to combine the walking dead and romantic comedy beautifully. Although it was marketed as Twilight with zombies, this is a much more complex story. Sure it has good-looking young people in the lead roles and a romance between two separate ‘races’ but it is so much more.
In post-apocalyptic America, where the hordes of walking dead are separated from the remaining humans by a giant wall, we follow the story of R. Now R (Nicholas Hoult), as both the main character and the narrator of the story, has a typical undead life, milling around the airport with others of his kind, going on the occasional excursion into the city to try and find his next meal of brains, and the maybe not so typical, trying to have conversations with his best-friend M, played by Rob Corddry, that usually consists of stares and the occasional moan. On a venture to find some grub, R rescues Julie (Teresa Palmer), a human girl whos seconds away from becoming zombie fodder, and manages to sneak her back to his current home, a grounded plane at the airport that he has filled with items he has collected since becoming a zombie. While protecting her, from the normal zombies and the super ferocious ‘Bonies’, R begins to develop feelings for Julie (possible brought on from R eating the grey-matter belonging to her now deceased boyfriend) and they begin to bond. As they both realised that R is not the same as the other infected around him, this sparks a wider change among the rotting community that could be the key to reversing the whole catastrophe. After remaining with R for a few days, Julie returns to the human compound, where her father Grigio (John Malkovich) rules, and tries to determine her feelings as she is missing R. When R breaks into the complex to warn Julie that the terrifying Bonies are chasing them, Julie tries to convince her dad that something has changed within the z-community and they just need their help to change fully. With the fate of both humans and transformed zombies at stake from the marauding Bonies, the two sides must figure out the extent of the unexpected change for the survival of both groups.
Having seen director Jonathan Levine’s film 50/50, I was excited to see how he was going to mesh the different genres promised in Warm Bodies together after having succeeded in combining comedy, drama and the serious subject of cancer diagnosis previously. In Warm Bodies, Levine does a brilliant job at uniting romance, comedy, horror and action into a fast-paced story with some unique elements that i had not seen before. In most films from this genre the zombies seem to be static, unable to develop and just seem to roam around moaning for brains. Here the infected can both evolve, developing the ability to speak and dream, and devolve, by shedding their skin and becoming the skeletal Bonies. It also introduces the concept that digesting the brain allows the eater to re-visit the memories of the consumed so they are able to get glimpses into their life.
The way the story progresses with narration from R, who appears smart and articulate in his own head but without the function to be able to express this in real-life, lead to funny moments as the viewer can hear his internal thoughts and how differently this plays to the people who can actually see him. Nicholas Hoult is great in his role of R and manages to show the development his involvement with Julie brings to him. Starting slow and building R’s abilities as the movie progresses, Hoult gives a convincing performance of someone who is evolving and learning new capabilities. R seems somehow relatable showing how he can be a zombie with a caring protective side.
Julie, played by Teresa Palmer, is not the typical female lead that is seen in some other young-adult-centric romances. She is tough, knowing how to handle a shotgun, funny, caring and thoughtful. Dropped into the middle of a situation she never thought she would see, Palmer managed to depict her uncomfortable fear that slowly become understanding and then possibly more. Palmer shows how feisty Julie is by defying both her father and the instructions of R at points in the film, and how affectionate she become towards R the more time they spend together.
Adding a Romeo and Juliet element to the story with the relationship between Julie and R, the romance never feels forced and doesn’t straying into awkwardness by having too much too soon or before R evolves more. Hoult and Palmer manage to have good chemistry even when Hoult is restricted to stares and very little dialogue. You can really feel the connection and as I was watching I cared what happened to them and began rooting for the relationship.
The supporting cast all add personalities to the story that need to be there. John Malkovch, as Julie’s father and leader of the humans, brings a grounded realism to his character and shows that opinions can change even when the ones you hold seem set in stone. The relationship portrayed between him and Palmer’s Julie shows the strain events have put on them but how they still care for each other deeply and that each has the best intentions for the other. M, played by Rob Corddry, is the sidekick to R and brings a nice bromance to the table as they look out for and rely on each other throughout the transformation. With some good comedy sections, Corddry is able to standout with little screen time or dialogue. The same can be said for Julie’s best friend, Nora portrayed by Analeigh Tipton, as she provided support and a sounding board for Julie after her time with R. Relatively new the screen, Tipton excels in her role and provides another strong female to the screen. Dave Franco has a small but important role as boyfriend Perry. Although Perry is mainly shown in flash-back it adds layers to Julie by showing the relationship they had, and enables R to alter by the consumption of his brain.
I have been able to watch this movie multiple times and still enjoy it every time it gets slipped into the blu-ray player. Sure, it does not break any boundaries nor is it the best movie you will see this year, but Warm Bodies is a great movie that I imagine most viewers would enjoy. It contains elements from such diverse genres that most of the audience should be able to find something worthwhile from watching this. Julie’s line to R “What are you?” may not get answered, but in relation to the movie, I would say this is enjoyable, relatable, funny and well worth watching whoever you are.