When I was a kid, vampire movies were the kings of horror. Those blood-suckers were terrors and the personification of evil. Over the years the vampire flick has gone from comedic (Love at First Bite, Dracula, Dead and Loving It) to romantic with Twilight taking the true bite out of the genre. It looked as though zombies could save horror, with films like 28 Days Later and The Living Dead series. Shawn of the Dead turned the zombie film on its head, and with Warm Bodies we get the first zombie romantic comedy, or as someone quipped “zom-rom-com.”
The story takes place after the zombie apocalypse has happened, told through voice-overs from a twenty-something zombie (Nicholas Hoult) who makes his existence at the airport. He has no memory of his life before the tragedy, just that his name started with “R.” Most of his days are spent wondering around the airport and making grunts toward his ‘friend’ M (Rob Corddry). The two spend most of their time at the bar, moaning at passersby.
The zombies eat brains and eventually turn into super-charged zombies who are more skeletal and can run like a banshee. But the regular zombies seem to have feelings and a bit of cognitive reasoning. When a zombie eats brains, he gets the memories of the one eaten. It becomes an easy way to show the time before the plague.
There are humans in the world, behind a giant wall and fighting to rid the planet of this subhuman menace. One of them is Julie (Teresa Palmer), a tough and ready young lady whose father (John Malkovich) is the leader. One day a team led by Julie makes a foray into the city to secure medical supplies. They are overtaken by a group of zombies. R sees Julie and instantly falls for her.
He rescues Julie from almost certain death and takes her to his lair. That lair is the body of a jumbo jet that R has turned into his home. It is full of trinkets and a massive selection of vinyl records. Through his very limited vocabulary, R lets Julie know that it is not safe for her to leave. She is shocked that a zombie can be anything more than an autonomous killing machine. As her shock turns to curiosity, she discovers that something is very different with R and that he can change.
The story of Warm Bodies parallels Romeo and Juliet. Except these two star-crossed lovers are not from different families but from different stages of life. As they get to know each other, the universal idea that ‘love conquers all’ comes into play.
Nicholas Hoult is best known for being Marcus in About a Boy from a few years back. This is a performance that should vault him into a shorter list for acting roles. With so little words spoken, he has to channel some of the great mines of the silent era to get his dramatic and comedic points across. It is a subtle and deft reading that few in Hollywood could pull off.
Teresa Palmer is known more for her beauty than her acting. Here she has to deliver almost all of the dialogue. She is also the one who has to go through the greatest range of emotions throughout Warm Bodies. At times she has to be sure, frightened, curious, tender and loving – all within the short expanse of 90 minutes. There is this believing charm she brings to the role.
The big reason to see Warm Bodies is the supporting performance by Rob Corddry. The former Daily Show correspondent has been making strides in minor roles of major films. He gets chance after chance to bring the funny while still staying in the zombie milieu.
Screenwriter/director Jonathan Levine has a tough job by trying to keep all the traditional expected zombie elements while still foraging a new genre trail. The problem with the film is that at times the mash-up doesn’t keep an even keel. A moment of terror jutted next to a comedy bit becomes a more jarring experience. Like a roller coaster, the movie is at times a rough ride.
Warm Bodies is not the kind of film that will win any awards but it will win some of the hearts of the teen audience it is aimed for. As a mash-up of different genres, it is more effective than most and I’d rather see it again than ever be subjected to another entry in The Twilight Saga.
WARM BODIES is set to hit theaters on February 1, 2013.