What makes Warm Bodies work so well is that it’s not a zombie movie with a romantic comedy premise; it’s a romantic comedy that just happens to take place in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. Adapted from Isaac Marion’s novel, which creatively mish-mashes Romeo and Juliet with Dawn of The Dead, this is a clever, smart and exciting romance/horror. Whoever compares it to the dull and lifeless Twilight franchise might actually be brain-dead zombies.
The story revolves around R (Nicholas Hoult), a lovesick zombie who’s looking for his soul mate. The only problem is being a member of the flesh eating undead, he can’t articulate his feelings beyond groans and grunts. So when it comes time to impressing the beautiful Julie (Teresa Palmer), he has no choice but to save her from other zombies and hope that her militant anti-zombie father (John Malkovich) doesn’t blow his brains out. The fact that R just ate Julie’s boyfriend Perry’s (Dave Franco) brain doesn’t help matters much.
Director Jonathan Levine (50/50), who also adapted Marion’s novel, cleverly turns the novel’s first person narrative, which is told from R’s point of view into voice-over that’s supposed to relate R’s inner monologue to the audience. This way, not only are we able to delve deeper into R’s personality since on the outside he looks and acts like all of the other zombies, we also get an observational look into the humdrum life of a zombie.
These voice-overs masterfully surf the line between cleverly sarcastic and annoyingly hipster and the tone of the screenplay is spot on. I especially enjoyed the bits where R is trying desperately to impress Julie by adjusting small facets of his appearance while Julie is nothing but scared stiff because, well, she’s in a closed space with a flesh-eating zombie.
The first half of Warm Bodies take place in the zombie world where R tries to protect Julie from other zombies. This leads to an amusing sequence where R gets Julie to pretend she’s a zombie and even gives her acting notes. During the second half the Romeo and Juliet references kick into full gear as R tries to gain Julie’s love by going to the one place where everyone would kill him without batting an eye.
There are lots of zombie movie tropes in Warm Bodies and the narrative eventually reaches to a shoot-em-up between gun-toting humans and Boneys: Soulless, skeleton-like monsters who were devolved from zombies.
But aside from the expected action and gore (Which by the way work within the context of the story and is concluded with a rather clever twist), Warm Bodies has all the makings of a John Hughes-style awkward teenage romance, and Hoult’s reading of his inner monologue and his tortured exterior appearance channel it perfectly.
During the generally brain-dead (I can’t help it) January-February season where studios dump their unwanted trash into theaters, Warm Bodies is a surprisingly insightful and smart piece of prime entertainment. Recommended to those who love Romero and Hughes equally.
You can watch my interview with Isaac Marion below: