WARM BODIES Review

I've never been one to love the zombie genre and I certainly haven't yet bought into the recent zombie and vampire craze but Warm Bodies might have converted me, at least partially. I was intrigued by this project from the beginning, by its director, its cast, and the way it was going to convey its story. Despite obviously cashing in on the recent rush of these films centering around the undead this one subverts the genre by allowing us a different perspective on the usual story of people running, hoping not to get bit by those already infected from their fellow human beings who've been transformed into the lifeless, soulless zombies that are not the enemy in Warm Bodies, but the protagonists.  There is certainly no lack of invention here as that director, Jonathan Levine (The Wackness, 50/50) who allows the quaintly paced story to unfold with the right amount of smart quips and dialogue as well as strong character development so that when the slightly cheesy, but inevitable conclusion does come around it doesn’t feel quite as cheesy or inevitable as you imagined it might be when you first sat down for the film. This was the first movie of the year I was genuinely excited to see and though I had good to strong expectations it still managed to meet almost all of them as I appreciated the films refreshing take on an extremely tired genre and the directors willingness to not let his film devolve into typical horror movie clich├ęs, and even better, the romantic comedy conundrum of drawing on those romantic moments from overly familiar situations but instead lets his original take on the zombie tale influence an original tale of sweet love.

R (Nicholas Hoult), M (Rob Corddry) and Julie (Teresa Palmer) in Warm Bodies.
Based on the young adult novel by Isaac Marion Warm Bodies tells the story of a zombie named R as played by Nicolas Hoult. Though Hoult is likely still most famous for his role alongside Hugh Grant in About A Boy he is more than well on his way to a marquee name after his supporting role in X-Men: First Class, this, and his upcoming lead role in Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer next month. Hoult brings just the right balance of hot and cold to the role of R who spends his days wandering through an abandoned airport along with hundreds of others that have his same posture, pale skin, and inability to speak full sentences. Despite being unable to actually communicate with the zombies around him R has a good amount of inner dialogue going through his mind at all times. As we become acquainted with R we see how self-aware he is of his current situation, the folks around him and his current life course that is anything but attractive and more than necessary to justify someone or something wanting to change, but no fear, Levine pulls in further reason and executes his story of a zombie gone soft in a reasonable and credible manner. Naturally, R and his best friend M (Rob Corddry as great comic relief) along with a few others reach a point of hunger and must wander towards the city where a last remainder of normal human beings have colonized themselves within a walled in section of an undisclosed city. Inside those walls Grigio (John Malkovich) is the man in charge and lives by a strict code of zombie killing. His daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer) her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and best friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton) along with a few others have completed their training and are ready to venture out and shoot a few zombies in the head to protect their homeland.

Of course, as one group heads towards the city and another the opposite way the meeting between R and the lovely Julie is bound to happen. What pulls us into the film though, what first captures our interest before it becomes a kind of warped Romeo & Juliet tale is the charm it exhibits as a comedy and social commentary. There is a shot early on where R reminisces on what the world must have been like before the zombie apocalypse destroyed everything. We see the airport transform into the hustle and bustle of our own daily lives as everyone is walking around on some type of mobile device, no one really speaking face to face with another human being that draws the thought of how close we've already become to being zombies. The scene is naturally embellished, but how far? We do wonder. The film continues its streak of sweet little charms that distance itself from a genre horror flick while always keeping far enough away from the "cuteness" of a rom-com so as not to insult those in the audience expecting blood and gore. Granted, besides a few early scenes of zombie mutilation and the consistent eating of brains that have been stored in R's pocket there isn't a ton of gross out moments that you might expect from a film involving zombies. Instead, the film keeps itself planted firmly between the two distinct genres by playing up the evolution of zombies into the creepy bonies and on a personal level exhibiting the understanding of feelings like alienation and being different that will surely comfort the teens in the audience in a way they feel they aren't being talked down to. 

R and Julie form an unexpected bond that could get complicated when R meets her father.
While all of this is fine and good in creating a different take on the zombie story, I have yet to really sum up the heart of the film and what makes it rise above the norm as a film in its own right. Director Levine has used the expectations of audiences to turn them on their head and instead has made a very personal film told from the perspective of someone we would have never thought to listen to. There are lessons all over the place, whether it be about judging people, bullying, love of a different class, race; all of these comparisons could be made and would come up valid but none of them would draw such sympathetic or very possibly empathetic feelings from the audience if it weren't for the way Levine was able to streamline the thought process of R without making the film feel tedious. For much of the film we get a narration from R disclosing not just what he is feeling, but his questions, his assertions and his need to feel something more in life rather than the numb, repetitive experience it has become. Drawing any more comparisons there? 

The way in which Levine uses music to re-enforce these feelings R is experiencing, especially with tracks from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Waite, and Jimmy Cliff is especially satisfying as they not only provide stellar music in the background of montages but they move the story along as well, helping build the relationship between R and Julie. These tracks stem from another highlight of the film. R is a bit of a hoarder, a collector and has turned a jet into his own little paradise with a large collection of old vinyls. The set design is that highlight whether it be the jet, the airport or the broken cityscape that is coated in grays and bland blues that is all very impressive and achingly beautiful to look at. As is the film in general; I enjoyed it very much and despite it having a few slow spots here and there it makes its point in fine fashion and features two strong performances in the leads from Palmer and Hoult, but especially Hoult who does a wonderful job transitioning from a most convincing zombie to someone who has a new sense of optimism for the future.