Warm Bodies constructs the Frankenstein like zom-rom-com that isn't as grotesque as the idea sounds. It’s humorous, sweet and has unexpected depth that superbly elevates it well above the genre bending gimmick it could rest on.
Most of the world has been turned into zombies and R (Nicolas Hoult) is a member of the horde. When R meets a human survivor of the zombie outbreak, Julie (Teresa Palmer), he is captivated by her and their relationship unexpectedly stirs R’s humanity. Writer/director, Jonathan Lavine (adapting the novel of the same name by Isacc Marion) has a lot of fun picking elements from the genres that inspired the tale and making them unique to the plot. Instead of the “meet-cute” we’re treated to the “meet-gruesome” when R spots Julie toting a shotgun during a zombie attack on a group of survivors. The film has a soundtrack that features oddball love songs including a fantastic use of John Waite’s hit Missing You and there’s even a makeover scene featuring a nod to Pretty Woman and a disapproving father (played by the great John Malkovich). All the elements of rom-com are still present but they have been put through a zombie filter that makes Warm Bodies truly unique. And the zombie side of the film isn’t short-changed either with plenty of brains devoured, gruesome looking members of the walking dead and little frights. Aside from the relationship between R and Julie, Warm Bodies has an engaging subtext. The excellently scripted internal monologue of R (another twist in the zombie tale) provides commentary on the state of the world he lives in. R mentions that he can’t remember what made everyone turn into zombies, but even his faint memories imply that humans were already acting like mindless fools plugged into mobile phones, iPods and computers, and the decline seemed inevitable. In the same way George A. Romero used zombies to satirise consumerism in his film Dawn of the Dead, Lavine uses Warm Bodies as a wakeup call for an increasingly cynical and detached society to rediscover its humanity.
Hoult nails the physicality and awkwardness of the traditional slow moving zombie. The balance between his movements and delivery of the internal monologue crafts a complex character that’s impressive because there has never been a zombie portrayed this way before and it’s an invigorating point of difference. Palmer has an earthly beauty and, of course, the BRRAAIINNS! She’s a delightful romantic lead and it’s easy to cheer for the abnormal couple. In zombie mode Rob Corddry gets big laughs and so does Julie’s best friend played by Analeigh Tipton who both execute well timed one-liners and reactions to the ludicrous situation.
The zombie makeup on the human extras is good but the digital creation of the skeleton like zombies known as “bonies” is a little rough and it’s strange watching them run around making what sounds like dinosaur noises lifted from Jurassic Park.
Don’t fear that the zombie has become too cuddly in the same way that vampires became plush toys in the Twilight Saga. Warm Bodies takes the notion of zombie meets girl an turns it into something that’s so crazy that it works.
[rating=3] and a half
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies