Director Jonathan Levine follows up his emotional and comedic take on cancer in 50/50 with the romantic zombie comedy (the first of its kind) Warm Bodies. Levine continues using his remarkable sense of storytelling with a film that can be described as a well-blended mesh of various genres. Warm Bodies is an entirely original take on the zombie genre that’s both charming and funny.
R (Nicholas Hoult) is a member of the undead army that now inhabits our world. Somewhere along the lines an outbreak happened and now the streets are filled with walking corpses as the humans hideout in a barricaded town. R is unlike most zombies. He thinks and occasionally tries to speak. Most of his somber days are filled with him dreaming of a better world where zombies are no more and people are back to doing what they used to do before they started eating each other.
He’s not sure if he’s alone or not and one day he takes advantage of his new urges and attempts to save a human by the name of Julie (Teresa Palmer) during a zombie encounter that left most of her companions dead. R brings her to his airplane home and tries to express his changing emotions by way of zombie grunts and groans. Eventually Julie comes around to his way of expression and from that point the two form a relationship that could possibly change the entire world.
Warm Bodies might sound like the corniest Twilight-inspired attempt and revitalizing the zombie genre, but the truth couldn’t be any further. What director Jonathan Levine has done with Warm Bodies is create a multi-layered film that plays as a cute and clever romance on the surface and a deeper and more relatable story about the actual definition of living as you dig into the film’s characters.
The two key roles are R and Julie, played with young zeal by Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer. Hoult does a great job expressing himself internally as a member of the zombie plague. On the outside he’s nothing more than a pale, cold and mindless brain-eater, but his inner thoughts are what makes up most of the film’s opening act. R is just a lonely guy that’s looking for companionship and he finds it in Julie; the daughter of Grigio (John Malkovich). Julie’s also battling some inner-turmoil, with a boyfriend that just doesn’t find joy in life anymore and a father that’s hell-bent on killing every last zombie because he lost wife to the deadly disease.
Julie’s surrounded by people, but she feels equally alone, because everyone around her spends too much time worrying about losing their life than actually living it. This counter-acts R’s lack of ability to actually live well and Levine certainly attacks that head-on with lots of cutting back and forth between present and past, allowing us to soak up life through two very different lenses.
The film’s brightest moments are when R and Julie interact. Levine has always had an eye for directing with such a raw understanding of how relationships work. He always approaches his films with an openness that always feels like authentic reactions to any given situation. 50/50 proved to be that touching cancer comedy that played heavy on drama without dropping the laughs and The Wackness showed us how to properly make a coming-of-age story with the right representation of all of those messy feelings that get flung around when growing up.
Warm Bodies is his most ambitious piece of work yet, because the film’s entire effectiveness rests on the odd concept of a zombie romance and not once does Levine exchange his emotionally engaging storytelling for a cheap zombie gag. He’s not afraid to lighten up the mood and inject comedy, especially when he uses an actor like Rob Corddry, but at the same time Levine almost always maintains focus on the film’s underlying (and sometimes downright obvious) themes.
Living without fear is without a doubt one of the film’s biggest messages and Levine quietly inserts that again and again as we shuffle back and forth between an airport full of lifeless bodies craving a fresh brain and a city full of warm-blooded people that are more than capable to use their brain. It’s fascinating reflecting on how much Levine is compiling into this seemingly harmless little romance. Zombies with big hearts and aspirations to live and living humans without the capacity to step foot outside in fear of death.
You can also classify the film as a modern day Romeo and Juliet without being too far off, especially when Levine pays homage to one of the most popular scenes from the Shakespeare play. There’s so many different ways to approach Warm Bodies. Every single one of them holds up in good defense too, because of the script, which is based on the novel of the same name by Isaac Marion.
The film’s biggest weakness is its lack of truly supporting characters. Corddry aside Warm Bodies feels mostly like Hoult and Palmer’s show, with John Malkovich barely classifying as a star of the film. There’s just no one more interesting than the love-struck couple and at times it feels like the film suffers from not having any real encounters with others. There’s never a danger or threat that feels like it could legitimately harm the two leads.
Still, as far as I’m concerned Jonathan Levine has yet to make a bad movie. Warm Bodies is probably his least memorable film, but it’s a progressive piece of entertainment for the whole family. It mashes up zombies and low-key romance in a way that I never thought was possible until now. It’s not without its occasional hitches, but it’s a warm reminder that the zombie genre is far from dead.
Warm Bodies – 8/10