Up until now 99.9% of zombie movies are a one-way street to destruction and relentless survival. There’s no hope for a cure because it’s all part of the design to horrify us. We are often presented with the same scenario, following a handful of survivors as they fend off the living dead–hungry for brains. Some films investigate the cause, or a pointless search for the cure, but it’s all just dressing to examine the survivors’ behavior as they struggle to stay whole and human. The Walking Dead television show is no different, toeing the edge of the nitty-gritty of the standard zombie tropes with expert execution. But isn’t there room for something that doesn’t take itself so seriously? Something that’s not so… I don’t know, grim? That’s why Warm Bodies resonates so strongly as a delicious, sugary-sweet alternative to the typical zombie affair.
Warm Bodies introduces new concepts to the zombie genre like telling the story through the eyes of a zombie for starters to make us care about them–to feel their pain, or at least their boredom. Perhaps a part of whatever they were still exists. We’ve always assumed that they’ve always been brain dead but a zombie (Nicholas Hoult) who is very much still alive narrates our story, he just can’t articulate any of his thoughts. Nor can he remember his name aside from it beginning with the letter “R” so he is known throughout the film as simply, R.
Zombies still crave brains here, they still wander the earth aimlessly, and they are still on high alert from any living human looking to shoot their brains out. But there are some other cool ideas like being a zombie is just the halfway point to a more horrifying fate. And when they eat brains, they consume the life of that person, including that person’s memories.
R is a bit of a pop culture hipster who has taken on hobbies, hording collectibles in his own Boeing jet. He collects decades’ worth of vinyl, and anything else that can help consume his extended time on this wasted planet. So when R consumes the brains of Perry (James Franco), one of the humans assembled to protect the last survivors and destroy zombies, his memories surge into rotten and heart, filling him with warmth for Perry’s girlfriend, Julie (Teresa Palmer). By inheriting Perry’s memories and feelings, R’s new instincts are to protect Julie from danger and sets off one of the most bizarre romantic courtships ever to make it on the big screen.
There are plenty of moments that should elicit sincere laughter, remind us of old fashioned chivalry, and several sequences that feel like little music videos allow each individual viewer to bring his or her own experiences to the setting. Jonathan Levine wrote and directed Warm Bodies, and he also wrote and directed one of my favorite 90’s period films, The Wackness that also featured a strange romance and a sweet coming of age story in an unlikely setting, set to the score of the renaissance of hip-hop. Levine’s latest evokes similar charm; Warm Bodies is a love letter to zombie films that covers just enough to satisfy the horror community, but should also surprise with its originality.
A small but significant supporting cast includes R’s best friend M, played spirited by Rob Corddry (Children’s Hospital), Julie’s best friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton) and her trigger-happy father (John Malkovich) keeps the story simple, contained, and focused without trying to invest too much in the more serious questions that always anchor themselves to zombie stories.
Remember, this film is different, so leave those morose, apocalyptic critiques at the door and see Warm Bodies if you want a little date movie that’s far from its expiration date and will be sure to revive your pulse on a genre that’s been starving for a clever, comedic take since 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Even if you’re still on the fence about yet another story about the undead, know that at the very least Warm Bodies will melt your frigid heart.