The zombie apocalypse has devastated the world, and the humans left are hiding in walled cities, venturing out from time to time to gather supplies. R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie who falls in love with a human girl after eating her boyfriend’s brain.
Based on the novel by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies is an odd mix. The film tries to combine Romeo and Juliet with the world’s sudden adoration of the zombie myth, while trying to be the antithesis to the nom nom run away sort of zombie movies, and do for zombies what Anne Rice did for vampires. Before seeing this movie, throwing out any idea you had about zombies would be a good idea. Yes, every writer and filmmaker tries to put their own mark on a genre, but Marion and director Jonathan Levine have created zombies with humanity, and zombie purists are bound to get up on their high horses about this one.
As R, Nicholas Hoult commands the screen. The story is told mainly through his eyes and his inner monologue/voiceover, and he makes a pretty good zombie. His attempts to speak and the monosyllabic voice he uses contrast nicely with the loquacious voiceover, but it is not long before the question arises; why is he different? Hoult manages the role well, with what he is given, and certainly proves he is able to carry a film as a leading man.
Teresa Palmer plays Julie, the human girl brought into R’s undead world. Again, she does fine with what she is given and her fear nicely gives way to curiosity. Rob Corddry takes over wingman duties and comic relief and manages them both well. But we knew he could do that anyway. John Malkovich steps in as Julie’s militant father, determined to protect the remaining humans and he adds some of the tension to the screen. He is not quite a villain, more a blinded human, and who can blame him? Malkovich could play this role with his hands tied behind his back and, like most of the character, is not given enough to work with.
The fault for this lies with the adaptation from the book. The audience could accept that R’s love for Julie makes his undead heart beat again and bring him back into the land of the living, but we are never given a reason why. There are hints at the idea that, by eating Julie’s boyfriends brain – it’s ok, he’s a zombie, that’s what they do – he has been given a part of the dead mans soul and a glimpse into Julie’s life, but this is never properly fleshed out, instead, the film focuses on the quirky; zombies living in an airport, zombie kids, the idea that somehow zombies are living the lives that their vessels did in life. The audience is repeatedly bashed over the head with the allegory of zombies as humans not connecting with one another and oh, have you spotted the Romeo and Juliet story yet? Of course you have. The film is too preoccupied with being clever, and allows the characters and their motivations to fall by the wayside. This works to begin with, but the audience soon finds themselves hungering for something a little more substantial.
Director Jonathan Levine has created a world that works well on the screen but like the screenplay that he wrote with author Isaac Marion, it is so self involved that the story is allowed to slip. Each actor is well directed, but they are not given enough to work with.
Warm Bodies is a quirky little film that thinks it’s a lot cleverer than it actually is. Questions arise that are never answered, which leaves the film dragging its heels, and the central love story fails to inject much life into the film. Warm Bodies is rather like its title; warm, but never much more than that.