- Rated PG-13
All photos © Summit Entertainment
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
irector Jonathan Levine has tackled some pretty ballsy material in his short career – including the slacker coming-of-age movies “The Wackness” and “50/50” – but “Warm Bodies” is probably Levine's most adventurous and challenging project yet, if only because the subject matter is about as outside-the-box as you can get. Based on Isaac Marion’s young adult novel of the same name, the movie plays out like “Romeo and Juliet” by way of George Romero, and though it takes quite a few liberties with zombie film mythology along the way, the movie has such a great concept and unique tone that it mostly makes up for its more nagging issues, like the slow-as-zombie pace.
After a mysterious plague wipes out most of humanity, turning the dead into zombified corpses, the remaining survivors have created a new life behind by a man-made wall designed to keep out their flesh-eating counterparts. One day, while out in the “dead zone” searching for medical supplies, a group of humans led by Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) is attacked by some hungry zombies, including R (Nicholas Hoult), one of the few walking corpses still capable of thought. In the middle of eating Perry’s delicious brains, however, R catches sight of Julie and immediately becomes smitten. (Cue cheesy 80s song.) After taking her back to his secret hideout, an abandoned airplane filled with nostalgic artifacts, Julie's effect on R intensifies as they spend more time together and he slowly starts to come back to life, a breakthrough that could potentially spread to the rest of the undead.
Though the story is heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, “Warm Bodies” draws from more fantastical fiction as well, particularly “Beauty and the Beast.” The film is a like a post-apocalyptic fairy tale, and although the zombie genre is already barely grounded in reality, many of the usual zombie rules are stretched or broken for the story to work. One of the biggest changes to the mythology is that eating someone’s brains now comes with the added effect of absorbing their memories. It doesn’t exactly make sense (especially the way it’s executed), but it’s essential to the story Levine is trying to tell. And for the most part, he gets away with it, thanks mainly to his two leads.
Teresa Palmer does a good job playing the love interest (a more proactive damsel in distress who could kick Bella Swan’s butt), while Nicholas Hoult’s performance is nothing short of impressive considering he doesn’t get to do much talking apart from his hilariously self-aware narration. Rob Corddry and Analeigh Tipton also earn some great laughs as the two lovers’ respective best friends, but John Malkovich is criminally underused as Juliet’s father, the ad hoc leader of the human rebellion. The film is also really slowly paced and lacking energy in the middle segment, but Levine’s script is bursting with such wry, dark humor (especially via the aforementioned narration) that it just barely tips the scales in favor of “Warm Bodies.” It’s not the next “Twilight” as some people anticipated, and thankfully, that’s probably the best compliment you could give it.