Warm Bodies really messes with zombie mythology. If zombies try hard enough they can talk. They can also have zombie friends. They can also fall in love. And mostly skeletal zombies, called Boneys, can run faster than any human, while regular zombies lurch along at a rigamortis-ridden, glacial pace. With these and other transgressions aside, Warm Bodies never ceases to be entertaining. Written and directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50), the film features winning performances from all of its lead actors, a cleverly written script, and most importantly, an innate heart that makes it easy to overlook any mistakes.
Our protagonist and narrator is R (Nicholas Hoult), so named because he can’t remember his name from when he was alive… only that it might have begun with an “R.” R is a zombie, and yes, he does eat people, but at least he’s conflicted about it, right? Death has also been kind to him, as while he is slowed down some, and is really pale and quite banged up, his hair looks artfully tousled and his eyes have turned a dreamy ice blue.
One day, fate brings R together with human survivor Julie (Teresa Palmer) as she and her friends are battling against him and his zombie pack, which includes his middle-aged zombie bestie M (a delightful Rob Corddry). R ends up killing and eating the brains of Julie’s boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and he, in turn, gets to experience Perry’s memories, which largely include falling in love with Julie. Because of the memories, and probably because Julie is a stone cold hottie, R acts against his zombie nature and rescues her, taking her to his dwelling in an abandoned airplane. As the two spend time together (and Julie tries to make several escapes), they start to fall in love and R slowly becomes more and more human. The zombies see that R has formed an attachment to Julie, and their relationship has a strange effect on them…
Trouble arises for the zombies on two fronts. On one end, those bad CGI Boneys are growing increasingly perturbed with their fleshier contemporaries and starting the looming threat of a zombie war. On the other, Julie’s pill of a father, Gen. Grigio (John Malkovich) is staunchly anti-zombie, seeing as they ate his wife, and obviously resistant to giving any zombie, let alone one in love with his daughter, a chance.
This film does suffer from a lot of pacing issues. For instance, too much time is spent at the beginning of the film with zombies pacing in the airport, and we stay way too long in the abandoned airplane with Julie still being mildly afraid of R. At an otherwise tight 97 minutes, it would have been in the film’s best interests to get things going much more quickly. The love story between R and Julie could have kicked off in full force a lot earlier, and a lot of the action doesn’t occur until three-quarters of the way through. That being said, the “getting to know you” scenes between R and Julie certainly are winning, as he shares his record collection with her and she re-teaches him how to drive.
And again, the most glaring issues here result from the inconsistencies with zombie mythology. The film is based on a novel (by Isaac Marion), so it’s hard to say how faithful it is to the original text, but why would Boneys ever be so fast? They are merely bone and sinew… wouldn’t they just be rotting in a corner somewhere? And yes, R is becoming more human, but does that mean that he no longer craves human flesh? A brief scene of perhaps R relearning the joys of eating an apple, for instance, would have done some much needed explaining.
With these issues aside, the film does win you over. This is largely in part to its pair of young actors, Hoult and Palmer, who and have a great deal of chemistry and inject a zip and a fizz into all of their scenes. Hoult, especially, is limited in his earlier scenes in the film, since he can’t really speak or move all that much, but he is a very skilled actor and does a lot with his eyes and his exemplary voiceover narration in order to get the proper emotions across. Palmer is often compared to Kristen Stewart, probably because they are around the same age and look similarly, but she can act circles around Miss Bella Swan, in that she has a tangible personality on screen and can even pull off the action sequences. Even the “best friend” roles, filled by [zombie] Cordry and [human] Analeigh Tipton are fully fleshed out, and provide added comic relief. There is a standout scene when Julie and Nora (Tipton) give R a human makeover that’s cute without being twee – it even self-referentially uses the song “Pretty Woman,” and all the young stars really sparkle.
Malkovich acts like Malkovich, which is always strongly encouraged.
Once you get past the zombie mythology issues, the script is cleverly written, and does make a lot of valid points on the lack of interconnectedness in today’s society. There is also that Romeo and Juliet parable (note the main characters names) that is wisely alluded to directly in a certain scene, rather than looming over, wanting to be noticed. Levine’s film even features notable cinematography, which is somewhat rare in a film of this ilk – taking a page from perhaps another Nicholas Hoult joint, A Single Man, the color saturates and fades as along with the film’s current emotional level. While this is an obvious choice, it certainly works here.
Yes, this film has it’s issues, and a lot of its logic is hard to swallow, but its notable performances and direction strengthen its sweet, but not cloying, thesis. You root for R and Julie to make it as a dead/alive couple, and you just want those zombies to finally be understood! Warm Bodies is certainly watchable and offers a humanitarian approach to “exhuming” the world, post-zombie apocalypse.
The Upside: Good performances all around and a clever script and direction by Jonathan Levine. The film is entertaining throughout.
The Downside: There are some pacing issues and a lot of messing around with zombie mythology.
On the Side: It’s a good thing James Franco taught his little brother Dave how to act. Watch the process here.