I’ll be honest. The first time I saw the trailer for Warm Bodies, I immediately thought: the next Twilight. That could be a good thing or bad thing, depending on your preference, but a knock off nonetheless. Star crossed lovers from two different worlds that have to overcome life’s hurdles. Why? Because their love is like none other. Warm Bodies gave that immediate impression from the trailers and clips that have appeared online. Thankfully, this zom-rom-com is a little bit more.
Whenever the latest apocalypse movie arrives, we all want to know the why and how. Our deep down end of the world survivalist wants to be prepared. This film opens with our hero, R (Nicholas Hoult), breaking to us the sad news that he doesn’t know how it all went to hell. He and the film quickly tip their hats to all the zombie movies that came before, but that isn’t what this story is about. In R’s daily walks he ponders about what life was like before, in a monologue that gives the audience the character of R. His world is a vast wasteland where no one talks to each other. Each and every zombie is wrapped up in its own little world where everyone else is insignificant. Director Jonathan Levine peels back R’s present to allow us a look at the past and we notice that people on their cell phones aren’t all that different. It’s a quick look, but a poignant one that resonates hard into the the foundation of the story.
In R’s search for food he meets up with the closet thing he has to a best friend, M (Rob Corddry), and they’re off with a pack of zombies to get some food. This is when R meets Julie (Teresa Palmer). In a great juxtaposition to R’s life and existence we see the world in which Julie lives. She is the daughter of the leader of a city of survivors, a man so hardened by the world that even his own daughter compares him to the lifeless corpses that dwell outside. The die hard zombie fans wanting a little more exposition learn that it has been 8 years since the world turned upside down and no cure is in sight.
Julie is on a recon mission for supplies with a group of young survivors lead by her boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco). When Julie’s father, Grigio (John Malkovich) gives them a non-rousing speech about survival and knowing who the enemy is, Julie grabs Perry’s hand for comfort. It is quickly brushed away. Its obvious that Perry has become distant. In their search for medical supplies, Julie’s group is attacked by R and his. These aren’t bungling kids doing their best. They are trained killers who are over run by a pack of hungry zombies. While the chaos ensues the film slows down as R notices this beautiful warrior woman killing his own pack. We know that R has fallen in love with Julie. In what can only be expected, Perry takes a bold stand against the zombies only to be killed by R. Of course, we all know, as it is with any romantic comedy, this moment is the one that will come back to bite R.
Still smitten with Julie despite killing her boyfriend, R moves in to protect her from the other zombies. He covers her in his own blood and her smell is now gone. The smell of “fresh meat” is key in this zombie tale and a device that enables R to keep Julie all to himself.
Warm Bodies has to take many departures from all the genres it is teetering on. Their are obvious connections to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” here. So much so that one could argue this is nothing more than the Bard’s work interpreted for a new generation. It’s the blunt reminders of our Romeo eating Julie’s boyfriend’s brains at different intervals that remind us this isn’t Shakespeare. The film explains why these zombies eat brains and it, too, mirrors what is happening in our own world. R eats brains to ingest memories and remember what it was like to feel alive. In our hustle and bustle of modern conveniences, like the cell phone scene at the beginning, we have lost touch with actually living in the world. It is a subtle lesson and not the only one Warm Bodies is trying to illustrate.
The stand out performance here is Hoult. Sure, he has the pretty boy look, despite the zombie appearance, but he sells the loneliness of R. His monologue is both heart felt and sad as he tries to understand the world he is dead in. Rob Corddry also brings his zombie to life on a completely different level. M has no monologue for the audience, yet a brief memory returns the spark of life to this zombie. Corddry keeps that spark alive in both his eyes and performance. It is a shame that Teresa Palmer really brings very little to the role. Her looks hide her age very well, but it is tough to believe that she is now a young woman who spent her teenage years growing up in a zombie wasteland. She brings a great fear to her situation, initially. However, she seems out of place in her own surroundings later.
Fear not, zombie enthusiasts, there is still plenty of carnage and creepy moments at work, too. The Bonies are our chief bad guys and supply brief, albeit light, moments of terror. The romantic comedy motif returns in the film and we have the comedic montage of our lovers getting to know one another. They have to be on their own and away from both of their worlds to understand each other better. It is over this time when R realizes that this all feels different. He likes Julie and does everything to come out of his dead shell.
This zombie romantic comedy can be interpreted in many different ways. It can be seen as a romantic comedy set with peculiar characters wrapped around the blatant use of an eighties soundtrack. Many will probably see it as a zombie filled Twilight rip off. There is more going on here than either of these two types of stories. Warm Bodies asks the question, can connecting with another person change the world?
If anything, it’s nice a change of pace to have a different kind of zombie apocalypse movie.