So this weekend we went to see the zombie comedy film Warm Bodies and greatly enjoyed it. (The movie is based on the novel Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and is directed and written by Jonathan Levine, who directed 50/50.) If you liked films like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead, chances are you’re going to like Warm Bodies. It’s a fantasy based zombie movie with a very straightforward allegory at its center. Nicholas Hoult, who played a character who suffered paralysis in the British t.v. series Skins and puts those skills to work here, plays “R,” a young zombie in a red hoodie in a world taken over by the zombie apocalypse. (He can only remember the first letter of his name.) R can’t communicate vocally much with his fellow zombies at the airport, including his friend, M (Rob Corddry,) but he still has many coherent thoughts going through his brain, which we get in voice over. Those thoughts and emotions are fading, though, and his memories are gone. Eventually, zombies give up, their skin rots and peels and they become “bonies,” creatures of tendon and bones that move fast, scream inhumanely and scare even the zombies. (Their CGI is quite clearly borrowed from The Mummy movies, which I was fine with as this is a low budget picture and it made me feel nostalgic.) A large part of the physical drive of the zombies to hunt and eat humans is because if a zombie eats a victim’s brain, he gets the victim’s memories and gets to remember for a bit what it is like to be human.
Changes come when R and his pack attack a squad of young people getting supplies for the human walled city and one of the humans is a beautiful, resourceful blond girl, Julie (Teresa Palmer.) R feels a connection which deepens when he eats her almost ex-boyfriend’s brain, and he rescues Julie by smearing zombie blood on her so that she smells dead and leading her back to the airport and his lair of collectibles in a jet plane. The growing connection between them eventually starts causing changes in R, changes which spread to other zombies, causing a strong reaction in the bonies. Romeo and Juliet (R and Julie,) have a lot to figure out and quite a bit of it is funny as well as satirizing with some pathos the sense of alienation among humans and the dangers therein, with creepy bits and effective action scenes for punctuation. Warm Bodies knows exactly where it wants to go with its balancing act and keeps the sharp lines of dialogue going, matched perfectly with the musical soundtrack. Using parts of Montreal, where it was shot, as an unnamed Midwest US city, the film gives a visual feast of color, lighting and camera angle tricks that do not give you a headache. The cast delivers deft performances, especially Corddry, Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s pal Nora, Cory Hardrict as another pal Kevin, and John Malkovich as Julie’s uptight father, General Grigio, who runs the human enclave. (Malkovich has in his golden years decided to take whatever funky role pops his fancy, of which I heartily approve, although his role here is not as fun as the one he does in Red.) Dave Franco also does pretty well with the somewhat thankless job of the boyfriend and Teresa Palmer, who has now done this role in a number of teen actioners, has the feisty love interest down. But the film rests, visually and auditorily, on Hoult’s shoulders and big blue deadened eyes and he keeps you watching. (Anyone who ever watched him steal About a Boy from Hugh Grant will not be particularly surprised.)
While not a revelation, Warm Bodies delivers with comedy, visuals, zombie make-up and odd warmth. (Never has blood smearing been so tender.)