In recent years, audiences have been inundated by vampires, zombies, wizards and every other supernatural creature imaginable on television, in books, and in the movies. So, when the trailer for director Jonathan Levine’s new zombie movie Warm Bodies was released, the collective groans of “Not another one” and “Haven’t we seen this already?” were almost audible.
Admittedly, I often take the “if you have seen one, you have seen them all” stance with works in this genre, and while I did enjoy Zombieland’s slap-stick comedy approach, these types of horror and gore movies are generally not at the top of my watch list. Warm Bodies, however, surprised by offering so much more than just scare tactics and carnage. Its combination of a young love story, real comedy, witticism, zombies and surprising social commentary (not to mention an awesome soundtrack) set it far apart from the typical “undead” horror flick and turned it into a very entertaining must see.
Based on the novel of the same name by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies features R, a lonely and rather self-aware zombie played by Nicholas Hoult, who wishes for something more out of life than his typical day of wandering around and groaning. R also serves as the narrator, providing important insight into his thoughts and feelings (since for most of the movie he cannot say more than about 10 words) and adding much of the comedic value with his pithy one-liners. He also offers a bit of poignant, albeit hilarious, social commentary, comparing the detached nature of the zombies who all live together without communicating to the way people using their cellphones and other technology are similarly absorbed in their own worlds.
No real explanation is given for why, when, or how the zombie apocalypse occurred, which is one of a few plot holes that may bother some aficionados of the genre (along with the fact that the zombies are inexplicably gifted with the ability to run fast only at opportune moments). That cataclysm leaves three surviving groups on Earth: The Zombies, like R and his sidekick and best friend M (Rob Corddry); the Bonies, which are so far gone they literally have devolved to skeletons and have no thoughts or feelings; and the Humans, who remain only in small numbers and stay enclosed inside walled fortresses except when they venture out on short re-con missions for medicine and other necessities.
It is while she is on one of these missions that Julie (Teresa Palmer) meets R while he is out searching for food with his fellow zombies. This is where one of the most interesting and original plot points occurs – the humans’ brains must be eaten so they won’t come back as zombies, which R explains is the best part because when he eats a brain he experiences all of that person’s memories and emotions, providing the only escape he has from his boring zombie life. R becomes deeply attached to Julie by eating her boyfriend and seeing his whole life through a series of flashbacks (this also affords the audience an important look into Julie’s life and the life of humans in general). As a result he decides that rather than eat her he’ll save her from the other zombies and take her back to the abandoned airport where he lives.
Through a series of musical montages, featuring such classic rock songs as “Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen and “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses, a Romeo and Juliet style love story develops. That begins to reverse the “zombie-fying” process and little by little starts to turn R human again; love turns out to be the long-lost cure for zombies. Soon R and Julie are off on an adventure to save the world (that is not of course without its set-backs).
While none of the principal actors are particular standouts – except for an oddly placed John Malkovich – all do a good enough job to make positive contributions to the film. It also features some very interesting close-up camera work by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe which serves to connect us to, and become emotionally invested in, the characters, which is not an easy feat when most are dead.
While it does have some very grotesque, scary moments and some language that squarely lands it in the PG-13 range, Warm Bodies is a heart-warming story of love surviving against all odds as well as the ability of the humans to work together and turn things around. That allows it to transcend the cliché zombie movie package and become entertaining and appealing.
Warm Bodies (www.warmbodiesmovie.com) opens today (Feb. 1) in wide release nationally. For locations and show times in the greater Nashville area check the websites of Regal Cinemas (www.regmovies.com), Carmike Cinemas (www.carmike.com) and Malco Theatres (www.malco.com). Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language, 97 min. Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, based on the novel by Isaac Marion. Starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, Dave Franco, Analeigh Tipton and Cory Hardrict.
*Photos by Jonathan Wenk and Jan Thijs courtesy Summit Entertainment, LLC.