Zombies are a huge fad in pop culture right now largely thanks to AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’, though the creatures have existed on the silver screen for ages. From ‘Zombieland’ to ‘Shaun of the Dead’ to George Romero’s classic films and even before that, the undead have slowly herded (or aggressively attacked, depending on which movie you’re watching) they’re way into theaters for a long time. Because of this, naturally something had to come along and add a twist to the genre to make it fresh again. As I sat in the theater watching Jonathan Levine’s ‘Warm Bodies’, I found that this was indeed a fresh take on an arguably played out fad (that I happen to still enjoy very much).
Starring Nicholas Hoult of the original ‘Skins’ and ‘X-Men: First Class’ and Teresa Palmer of ‘I Am Number Four’ and ‘Take Me Home Tonight’, ‘Warm Bodies’ is described as a zom-rom-com (or zombie romantic comedy). The story based on the novel by Isaac Marion follows R, a zombie whose life has become repetitive and boring. While heading into the city with his “best friend” M (played by Rob Coddry) to track down some food, their herd meets Julie and her crew, who are trying to retrieve medicine for the sick people in their colony of survivors that was established by Julie’s father General Grigio (played by John Malkovich). During the inevitable zombie vs. human scuffle that ensues, R devours the brain of Julie’s boyfriend and acquires his thoughts and memories, including the feelings of love he had for Julie. As the humans flee the scene to stay alive, Julie is left behind and R rescues her. Over the course of the journey to get her back home, R falls even more in love with Julie and she starts to notice some things change about her zombified protector.
At it’s core, ‘Warm Bodies’ is a Shakespearian love story. A romance emerges between two people who shouldn’t be getting involved. Classic ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I even recall that there was a balcony scene. Plus, the main characters names are a dead giveaway, so it’s not like they were trying to hide the allusion. But as corny as it sounds, none of it was corny at all. The characters’ motivations behind their choices were very interesting and managed to keep the audience following along every step of the way. Usually in movies like this, the characters eventually reach a point where the romance gets physical, but Levine, who both wrote and directed the movie, portrays the leads with such innocence that it doesn’t really get there. Plus, necrophilia most definitely is not on the menu in this sweet love story.
That’s really the kicker to this whole thing. Not only does the audience stay interested because this is a zombie film that they’ve never seen before, but it’s also a love story that we haven’t seen before. I know that I never thought I’d see a romantic comedy between a zombie and a human, so actually seeing it was somewhat surreal, yet very enjoyable.
Aside from being a compelling love story, the zombie element of ‘Warm Bodies’ is like any portrayal of zombies I’ve ever seen before. In this film, they’re depicted as sentient beings. We learn this right off the bat with R’s voiceovers. He’s thinking about stuff, which is not how we’d normally think of zombies. He may not be able to fully communicate the feelings that he has, but thanks to the miracle of film, we get to see him try to communicate, which is pretty cute. It’s one thing for a guy to be shy and unable to speak to a girl, but his motor skills won’t actually allow him to do that. The best he can do is say things in his head for the audience to hear. Additionally, the plot presents the notion that there is a level after becoming a zombie that they refer to as “bonies”, which are zombies that completely give up and just rip off their skin to become hostile, aggressive skeletons. Seeing them in action was where the conventions of the genre really kicked in.
Finally, the whole idea that zombies can be cured with love and feelings (which sounds waaaaaayyyyyy more lame than I meant it to) adds a whole new dimension to the “love conquers all” dynamic of a love story. You’re constantly pulling for this one, folks, because this movie has a lot of heart even though half the cast doesn’t have that particular organ operational.
As far as themes go, one could argue that an underlying theme of ‘Warm Bodies’ was being accepting of people and not judging them right away. It had the same feel as last year’s ‘Paranorman’ in that department, but I’d say ‘Warm Bodies’ not only did a better job of presenting the allegory, but they made it more fun.
Basically, “fun” would be a great word to describe this movie. It contains a trope that’s often used and will always be used in storytelling, but it’s twist is too good not to enjoy, especially when the writing by Levine and the performances by Hoult, Palmer, and Corddry were very funny and sincere. Don’t let Summit Entertainment’s track record with supernatural love stories fool you because this one is way better than whatever was going on with that vampire and that werewolf. Bottom line is that I’d recommend this film to everyone because it was really good, but if anyone asks me what movie they should see with a special someone to celebrate that greeting card holiday coming up later this month, this will be the movie that I steer them towards. Sure there’s that new Nicholas Sparks movie and ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’, but I think both parties would enjoy ‘Warm Bodies’ the best.