Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Jonathan Levine (screenplay), Isaac Marion (novel)
Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Dave Franco, John Malkovich
Release date: February 1st, 2013
Distributors: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate
Running time: 97 minutes
Best part: The chemistry between Hoult and Palmer.
Worst part: The dodgy CGI.
For the past few years, we have been inundated with the works of author and stay-at-home Mormon Stephanie Meyer. The Twilight franchise and The Host have now made the big bucks, but that doesn’t mean they are good. Imagine if a romantic-horror movie for teenagers was actually well written, directed, and acted. I know it seems impossible, but Warm Bodies fits this premise. It’s a fun, witty and heartening examination of life and love.
The film starts out with narration from a teenage zombie who calls himself R (Nicholas Hoult). He’s stuck in an existential crisis whilst shuffling around a decayed airport. He lives in an abandoned plane and hangs out with fellow zombie M (Rob Corddry). His dull existence is livened up by the introduction of resistance fighter Julie (Teresa Palmer). It’s love at first sight. After R eats her boyfriend(Dave Franco)’s brain during an attack, he saves Julie by escorting her to his hideout. Their relationship slowly begins to blossom, as Julie learns that there is more to the zombified inhabitants of Earth than meets the eye. Many directors have experimented with zombies, romance, and Shakespeare. These topics are popular for many reasons. Despite their vast differences, their elements can easily be woven together. Warm Bodies certainly owes a debt of gratitude to zom-coms such as Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.
The movie inventively takes on the zombie point of view. Many people have described Warm Bodies as a ‘zom-rom-com’. It may be a cheesy description, but it fits this movie like a glove. Its story can be summed up with a quote from esteemed poet Maya Angelou. She said that “love is like a virus, it can happen to anybody at any time”. These zombies are murderous yet still have some life left in them. Their dreams and memories are trapped by the infection stewing in their veins. R sees the funny side of his existence whist wishing he had his old life back. He charmingly grunts every word whilst we hear his intelligible narration. His ‘almost conversations’ with M are some of the film’s best moments. The film’s sense of style is subtle yet efficient. The 80s soundtrack, featuring songs by Bruce Springsteen, The Scorpions, and Guns N’ Roses, lends the film a comforting sense of nostalgia. The writing and direction are responsible for the film’s quality. Jonathan Levine is clearly a fan of both zombie lore and romantic-comedies. With this and 50/50 to his credit, he could be seen as the next John Landis or Ivan Reitman. Both are black comedies that deal with the ugly side of the human condition. Warm Bodies is clearly inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s touching story is brought to life in a film dealing with the worst situation imaginable. The film forms its own identity whilst imitating the classic tale. The film subverts zombie clichés whilst conforming to romantic-comedy clichés. It’s a classic ‘Hollywood’ story of two people from different sides of the tracks.
“I don’t wanna be this way. I’m lonely. I’m totally lost. I mean, I’m literally lost. I’ve never been in this part of the airport before.” (R (Nicholas Hoult), Warm Bodies).
This movie has similar elements to Let the Right One In. However, whereas that film was violent and dark, this is witty and quirky. The relationship between Julie and R is palpable despite their unusual situation. The airport becomes the setting for multiple ‘dates’. They listen to rock music, drive sports cars, and enjoy the spoils of R’s collections. The zombie makeover scene, with the song Pretty Woman blaring in the background, is a stand-out comedic moment. They soon begin to act like a cute couple. This is both a fun comedy and a perfect date movie. The romance is, at points, heavy-handed. Metaphors and cheesy moments are awkwardly thrust into this otherwise tender romantic-comedy. The love-story also leaves many questions without answers. It’s difficult to decipher how and why their relationship can cure the zombies around them. The ultra-dead zombies, known as ‘Bonies’, are also unconvincing. Calling back to the Ray Harryhausen era of CGI, they are uninteresting and prove to be only a minor threat. The film is brought to life by its stellar performances. Hoult overcomes his character’s obvious restrictions to deliver a fun performance. He is a charming and sensitive performer who convinces us to care about his character’s remarkable transformation. Corddry brings wit to his otherwise generic role. Palmer changes from tough chick to soulful love interest with ease. John Malkovich, despite his underwritten role, is charismatic as the cynical resistance leader and Julie’s dad. Franco and Analeigh Tipton are charming in small roles.
With a zany sense of humour and catchy retro soundtrack, Warm Bodies is a surprise hit. Combining so many genre elements and influences, it’s a charming and intelligent interpretation of zombie lore and romantic-comedy mechanics. Levine and Hoult lend their remarkable talents to an otherwise conventional pseudo-Shakespearean tale.