Zombies are the *new* vampires, and I’m not sure I understand why. Admittedly, George A. Romero’s original ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remains one of my all-time favorite horror flicks but I’m in the minority on Danny Boyle’s ’28 Days Later’/’28 Weeks Later’ and AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’. Zombies don’t make for interesting creatures – they snarl, walk slowly, sniff the air, feast on human flesh, approach a physical barrier, and are eventually killed with a shot to the head. We’ve never once been able to identify with a zombie character or understand what triggers go off within their decaying mind. ‘Warm Bodies’ breaks tradition and offers us a story that allows us to see things from the zombie’s point of view.
Based on the novel by Isaac Marion, writer-director Jonathan Levine offers us a fresh spin on the zombie genre. The story takes place eight years after a plague has killed off most of the world’s population and turned those victims into zombies. Now, the remaining humans led by Colonel Grigio (John Malkovich) and protected by his armed militia live behind a huge walled city. On the other side of that wall – zombies; and among the zombies is R (Nicholas Houst) who, like his friend, M (Rob Corddry) live at a deserted airport. R and M have almost conversations – most of these consist of grunts, groans, and “eh’s”. We’re able to hear the thoughts in R’s head and come to understand that he’s conflicted about feasting on humans.
While on the lookout for food, R encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer) and a group of her friends. R sees Julie and is immediately drawn to her. His latest victim ends up being Julie’s boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco). We learn that a side effect of zombies eating human brains is that they experience the memories of the victim – this makes R’s attraction to Julie even stronger. And this causes him to save Julie from being killed by other zombies. They take refuge in a well-decorated airliner, and eventually Julie comes to realize that R means no harm. I should also mention there’s a difference between the dead and the truly dead; the truly dead as referred to as Bonies – these are ferocious and quicker moving zombies who have resorted to tearing off their own flesh, thus making them skeletal-killing creatures that are on the hunt for both zombies and humans.
If not for the fact that he’s part of the undead, R could very well be a character in a circa-2013 John Hughes knockoff. He looks like a hipster high school kid who found a good make-up artist for Halloween. And he’s got fabulous taste in music (well, except for John Waite’s ‘Missing You’). I also think Teresa Palmer has a great screen presence – I’ve noticed her in previous films (none of which I liked) including: ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, ‘Take Me Home Tonight’, and ‘I Am Number Four’ and always held the belief that she would be able to shine through in the right role. I only hope she continues to pick scripts as good as this for future projects, and I believe if she continues to do so, she will become a recognizable talent. Perhaps knowing that there was no way for John Malkovich to out-crazy the craziness contained within ‘Warm Bodies’, he gives a surprisingly dialed down performance. The best of the supporting cast is Rob Corddry; he’s able to deliver laughs with minimal dialogue – the key to a good comedy is timing, and Corddry’s comic timing is brilliant.
‘Warm Bodies’ does have its flaws. The special effects surrounding the Bonies aren’t particularly convincing, and their movements appear to be clunky. Some of the musical choices are a little too obvious; I understand that music is used as a tool for the speech-challenged R to communicate with Julie, but the movie does have an overreliance on it during the first act. And while there is a degree of subtlety to both the humor of the picture and its message, there are times when it’s not so subtle – most noticeably a scene with R under Julie’s balcony that, you know, reminds us of a tale of star-crossed lovers penned by Mr.Shakespeare.
Thanks to the success of the ‘Twilight’ series (or failure depending on how you look at it), there appears to be a surge in the human/supernatural romance sub-genre. As with any romantic film, the courtship process has an element of mechanics to it. But, at least the characters here are (pardon the pun) fleshed out. Mr.Levine’s script has a terrific sense of humor and I admired his optimistic view of humanity (which was a nice change of pace after seeing some really grim pictures lately) and he infuses the film with stylistic flourishes. I loved ‘Warm Bodies’ and give it major points for breathing new life into a genre that seems as dead as its zombie counterparts. I doubt there will be a better post-zombie-apocalyptic love story this year. QED.