There are few films that boast a truly original premise, but Warm Bodies is one of them. What genre is it? Well, it’s the only zombie romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. Written and directed by Jonathon Levine, it was adapted from a Young Adult novel of the same name by Isaac Marion. I haven’t read the novel yet, but the movie carries that “first person present” feel to it that is omnipresent in YA dystopian books.
The movie is narrated by a teenage zombie, R (Nicholas Hoult), who knows there’s something missing in his death, but just can’t figure out what. He lives in an abandoned airplane that he has appropriated for his use and stocked with lots of stuff that he has collected, including a stereo with a turntable and an impressive collection of disks, because he values the purity of the sound. By day, he shuffles around the airport groaning, occasionally grunting with his “friend” M (Rob Corddry) and going out to eat with him. The food, of course, is human and R cherishes human brains because they allow him to vicariously experience life by re-living the memories of the deceased.
Ultimately, the zombies turn into living skeletons called Boneys. Although the skeletons leave the zombies alone, they also exist by eating humans and they are extremely deadly.
In a city within the city, protected by towering walls, humans live under the authoritarian leadership of Colonel Grigio (John Malkovich). The Colonel’s daughter, Julie (Theresa Palmer), her boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), and her best friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton) volunteer to go outside the walls to search for medical supplies and this expedition coincides with a search for human food by R and M (the initials are all they can remember of their former names) and some of their zombie friends.
During the fight that ensues, R is attacked by Perry and kills him. As he eats the boys brains, he relives memories of Perry’s time with Julie and he develops a soft spot for her, so when the raid is over, he rescues Julie and brings her back to his airplane. Unsure what to do next, he plays music for her and rescues her again when she tries to escape. As he attempts to talk to her and finds a few human words, she wonders why he keeps saving her. During the next few days, they talk, play games, and listen to music, but finally she convinces him that she must go back to her father. When M and the other zombies see them holding hands, they begin to develop feelings, too, and allow them to go. The zombies are beginning to regain their humanity.
If there are a few things here that seem a little familiar, it’s because there are some similarities to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Yes, R and Julie suggest that. So does the story of “two houses divided” in a great city. And yes, there is even a balcony scene, but that is where the similarity ends. There is nothing tragic in this “feel-good” dark comedy.
Hoult and Palmer are splendid as the young lovers. Hoult’s voice and narration are both hilarious and oddly touching at the same time. It’s the only zombie movie where you will find yourself identifying with the zombies. Hoult is English and Palmer is Australian, yet they are perfectly believable American teens. Palmer is beautiful and sexy, yet very down-to-earth. They should both have terrific film careers.
Malkovich is a little one-note as Colonel Grigio, but the role was written that way. Tipton may be the big surprise in the film. Although her role is fairly small, she seems consistently to get the best lines not given to Hoult and she is laugh-out-loud funny in places. Corddry gives a very restrained and heart-felt performance as M.
It’s hard to do the movie the credit it deserves in a short review, but it is the kind of film that should have a big crossover audience. The characters are well-drawn, the situation bizarre and hilarious and the film-making is first rate from the beginning to the end. At 91 minutes, it is the perfect length and that shows that director-writer Levine was really in tune with the material. Many other directors might have cluttered up this charming film with all kinds of nonsense or overplayed the comedy, but he hits the right note in every scene. The cinematography, art direction, costume, and make-up are all spot on.
I highly recommend this movie!