At first glance, Warm Bodies seems like an inevitable film. Between the success of the Twilight franchise and the popularity of zombie-comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, it was only a matter of time before somebody made a comedy about a human girl falling in love with a zombie. That stated, beneath the superficial similarities and the trendiness of its premise, Warm Bodies is a movie all its own that is clever, moving and, most unexpectedly of all, unique.
Based on the novel by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies tells the tale of R (Nicholas Hoult), a young zombie who wanders aimlessly through a post-apocalyptic airport with his friend, M, (Rob Corddry) until he falls in love with a human girl named Julie (Teresa Palmer) after eating the brains of her boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), and acquiring his memories. Their romance sets in motion a biological reaction that could prove to be the zombie cure. That is, if they can overcome the evil boneys and the human militants led by Julie’s father, General Grigio (John Malkovich)
The film is quite a loyal adaptation of the novel and, in fact, the movie’s weakest story point is one that it shares with the book: the absence of any exposition explaining the nature of the zombie virus. The book vaguely toys with the concept that the zombie condition is an extension of human depravity but this is never fully developed upon. Without an understanding of what turns people into zombies, the concept that love has the capacity to turn zombies back into people is contrived, albeit sweet.
Quite frankly, though, I’m willing to let intellectual loose ends slide because of this movie’s unique and somewhat courageous tone. Warm Bodies is an interesting film because, despite its comical premise, it actually takes itself quite seriously, though never to the point of melodrama. It may not contain as much philosophical meandering as the book but neither does it shy away from the grittier, more emotional aspects of the story. It is disturbing to watch our protagonist kill Perry (in no small part thanks to Dave Franco’s heart wrenching screams during that scene … well done, sir). It’s moving when M recovers his first memories and when R confesses to Julie that he murdered her boyfriend. It must have been tempting to dial back on the more ambiguous plot points and I appreciate that the filmmakers had the conviction to do right by the story’s integrity.
The movie has a strong cast. Palmer imbues Julie with a believable, likable and rare balance of vulnerability and action-heroine toughness. Franco manages to successfully cram a complicated story arc into Perry’s limited screentime, though, I was sad to see that his character’s redemption in the book was left out of the adaptation. Corddry is actually somewhat disappointing as M as he speaks with far too much ease and angst to be a zombie. Though, reading that Corddry based his performance on brain damage patients certainly casts his acting choices in a more interesting light.
The real gem in this film, however, is Hoult. He is superb as the lovable yet undeniably undead, R. I didn’t know that it was possible to emote while maintaining the countenance of a zombie but Hoult pulls it off. His physicality, facial expressions, labored elocution and sardonic voiceover combine to create the most well-developed zombie character I’ve ever seen (though, to be fair “character development” and “zombie” aren’t usually two things that go together). There is never a moment in which you question that R is a zombie with a soul. The poignancy in his eyes as he struggles to speak while maintaining the outward demeanor of a traditional zombie is truly impressive.
Warm Bodies is a significant edition to the zombie genre, mixing comedy, drama and horror in an unprecedented yet coherent combination to create an excellent film.
If nothing else, you should watch this movie just to see Nicholas Hoult’s zombie run.