Warm Bodies takes place eight years after the start of a zombie plague that turned the world into a desolate wasteland. Our main zombie character only known as “R” (Nicholas Hoult) is living out his undead life by wandering an abandoned airport, occasionally grunting with his fellow zombie friend “M” (Rob Cordry) and wondering (through interior monologue) whether or not he can come out of this undead state and express his articulate human thoughts. While on the hunt for some human flesh, “R” and his fellow ghouls attack a group of young human survivors searching for supplies to bring back to their walled off city, including Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco). During their interaction, “R” falls head over heels for Julie (or… as much as a zombie can fall for a girl), kills and eats the brains of Perry, and rescues Julie from the other more flesh hungry zombies. After bringing her to his abandoned airplane home, “R” slowly starts to gain his humanity while getting to know Julie, setting into motion a series of events that could transform this post-apocalyptic zombie infested world… THROUGH THE POWER OF LOVE!
Now, I’ve never been that big of a horror film purist. If someone changes the classic monsters of old, I’m fine with it… as long as the tweaks lead to a creative and engaging story. Something like Twilight isn’t insulting because they change the lore of vampires & werewolves; it’s insulting because those changes resulted in a story that dragged and characters that were loathsome. Warm Bodies, on the other hand, takes the tired and overplayed concept of zombies and gives it a creative spin that’s charming. There are a few cliché story elements, the most glaring of which being the rather bland villainous zombies known as “Bonies”, who only really serve as rather clumsy villains for the third act, but the film is witty enough to work past that.
Certain zombie traits are cleverly re-examined, giving a more human perspective to the zombie mythology. For example, as our titular zombie “R” eats the brains of Julie’s former boyfriend Perry, he starts to see Perry’s memories from his point of view. Now, while this is mainly used as a plot device, it also provides emotional weight for the zombies in universe as “R” explains that zombies mainly go for the brain because experiencing these memories are the only times they feel close to human. It’s a big change to zombie mythology, but it’s a change that works as a creative twist on said mythology while also giving us insight into all of the zombie characters.
This more human approach can be seen not only in the zombie mythology elements, but also in the direction and cast. Writer/director Jonathan Levine (of The Wackness and 50/50) is usually quite apt at creating relatable characters and he provides his usual touch to this zombie story through his music choices and visual eye for the subtleties of human interaction. Levine’s work isn’t totally perfect, as the rather choppy action sequences near the beginning and climax of the film show his inexperience with depicting physical conflicts. The cast is filled with a fun group of actors and actress that know just how to play this mixture of comedy, horror and romance perfectly, with stand outs being Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer and Rob Cordry. Hoult really shines as the lead zombie character, particularly with how well he sells the zombie virus as a socially awkward handicap for his character.
Overall, Warm Bodies is a clever concept that manages to sell a warped take on zombies much better than expected. It’s not a blasphemous as the concept may seem, taking this zombie mythos that’s been long played out and breathing new life into it. Thanks to a talented writer/director and his more than willing cast, it’s one of the few zombie centric films that will please a wide audience, particularly young couples looking for a charming romantic comedy on Valentine’s Day. Still, it does disappoint in one area: there’s not a single necrophilia joke to be found. Ah well. Take what you can get, I suppose.