It’s hard to say what we have seen more of in movies, a zombie apocalypse or forbidden teenage love. It’s also hard to say which is scarier, but that is a conversation for another time.
What we haven’t seen before is forbidden teenage love set amid a zombie apocalypse and we certainly haven’t seen that love blossom between a zombie boy and a human girl.
“Warm Bodies” has a lot of fun playing with all of these conventions and the result is a clever, endearing little film that is much better than you would expect it to be.
Our hero is R (a fine performance by Nicholas Hoult), a remarkably well-preserved zombie who has a rich interior life. We are privy to R’s innermost thoughts and learn he has a lot of insight, intelligence, and wit for a shambling, undead corpse.
In spite of his aspirations for a better life, R still can only manage to grunt and moan, shuffle aimlessly around a bombed-out airport and chow down on the occasional unsuspecting human to satisfy his relentless hunger. Zombies don’t have a lot of career options.
All of that changes when R meets Julie (Teresa Palmer). Julie is the daughter of Grigio (John Malkovich), the hardened leader of a group of survivors. Forced to venture out of their walled compound for supplies, Julie and her boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), join a team that has an unfortunate run-in with R and a group of his zombie buddies.
R is immediately smitten and fortunately for Julie, he doesn’t like her only for her brains. R rescues Julie and brings her back to his airport where he safely stashes her in an abandoned 747.
As you would imagine Julie is justifiably conflicted at first, but as they spend more time together R’s vocabulary slowly begins to expand and he starts to show other signs of life. Hope begins to blossom, not only for a cure for R’s zombie state but also for romance with Julie.
The tone is of the utmost importance here and fortunately, this is a movie that is fully aware of how silly it is. “Warm Bodies” takes almost as much of its inspiration from “Zombieland” and “Shaun of the Dead” as it does from “Romeo and Juliet.”
Writer/director Jonathan Levine (who also struck the perfect tone with the cancer-comedy “50/50”) knows where all the jokes are, but also finds the heart of the story while avoiding the trappings of teenage melodrama.
Levine also gets points for adorning his movie with a killer soundtrack, mostly consisting of 80s rock songs. Who would have guessed that John Waite’s “Missing You” would go so well with a zombie attack?
The movie also wisely gives the humans and zombies a common enemy to unite against, a group of skeletal zombies called “bonies,” who have shed all traces of their humanity.
This isn’t a movie that is overly profound or super hilarious, although Rob Corddry (as M, R’s nearly-as-enlightened zombie buddy) gets some pretty funny moments.
I think what ultimately makes this movie so effective is that young love can be just as confusing and transformative for non-zombies as it is for R.
You could even go so far as to make the argument that most teenage boys are disheveled, unwashed monsters until romance inspires them to stand up straighter and bathe occasionally. But then again, I don’t want to read too much into “Warm Bodies”; it is just a young zombies-in-love movie after all.
“Warm Bodies” is rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language.