It was with trepidation that I finally agreed to go with my brother to see “Warm Bodies,” a book and film in which the only thing I knew was that it had been labeled “The Twilight of Zombies.” One: It wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be to walk into the theater. I’m in my mid to late thirties and I wear zombie hoodies and wrestling T-shirts; I’m officially old enough to not give a crap. Two: Warm Bodies is much, much better than I was expecting it to be and if anything, its “label” and preconceived notions do the story a great injustice. This film is so much more than a supernatural teen romance.
A zombie (would-be tween heartthrob, Nicholas Hoult) who calls himself “R” (that’s the only part of his human name he can remember) spends his post-apocalyptic days wandering around the airport with his bretheren. R, however, seems to be an atypical walking corpse. He knows what he is, what he was and what has happened to the world. He has an inner monologue that the audience is privy to. He lives by himself in an airplane where he collects relics of the lost American culture. He’s even an undead hipster, complete with a pretty solid vinyl collection. When not lost in his own thoughts, R attempts to communicate with his best friend “M” (Rob Corddry). Most of the time they can only grunt, but sometimes they spit out some words. They don’t realize it, but this small act is a glimmer of hope in an otherwise hopeless world.
The uncomplicated life of a zombie suddenly becomes more complicated when R’s hunting pack encounters some young adults scavenging for medical supplies to bring back to their walled community of survivors. (It’s a set-up not unlike the one in my own novel, because really, there are only so many scenarios to choose from in this kind of imagined world.) R eats the brains of a young man named Perry (Dave Franco), which gives him access to all the memories contained therein. It’s one of the sillier concessions but as a plot device, it is effective in that 1) it provides sudden motivation for the main character when he finds himself inexplicably drawn to Perry’s girlfriend, Julie, and 2) it allows for some much-needed exposition of the human characters without having to resort to too many clunky “getting to know you” scenes back home.
R saves Julie (the adorable Teresa Palmer), from certain doom and leads her scared and confused, (but knowing better than to kick and scream), back to his airplane. Having someone who can effectively hold a conversation works wonders for R’s speaking ability and it’s not long before his inner monologue is able to get his tongue working to say the things he wants to say. He convinces Julie to stay a few days since it’s not safe for her in the middle of a zombie nest and from there, they begin to forge a genuine, if unlikely friendship. Amazingly, R’s heart is triggered and starts working again.
During their eventual escape, they are assisted by M, who has his own heart and memories triggered by the sight of the two holding hands. If R and Julie are the catalysts for a zombie feelings revolution, then M is the snowball they roll from the top of a hill. It is not long before M is passing along heart-pumping human emotion like a zombie virus in reverse. By the time R makes it back to the human camp to find Julie, (she leaves his side after understandably not taking too kindly to finding out who murdered Perry), R is colorful and lively enough to be mistaken for human, at least in passing.
Will the two young lovers from opposing sides, (I believe we’re supposed to deduce that R’s name was Romeo), be able to convince Julie’s dad, the leader of the army, that the zombies are changing for the better? Will a world come to exist where zombies and humans live side by side in harmony? Can the horde of skeleton zombies who are beyond redemption be defeated? Well, if you consider that this film really is targeted toward tweenagers, then the answers to those questions are never in doubt.
But, as I said at the top, it is a disservice to dismiss this film as tween fodder. It is about the perseverance of the human will. The triumph of the human spirit. And yeah, if you wanted to get technical enough, I’m sure you could write a paper on this as an allegory for war or racism or something. This is not a story about an unlikely romance. It is a story about how our innate humanness can not be easily killed. It can always be revived, even to literally save the world. It is Romero’s notion that zombies can ‘remember who they were’ taken to its endpoint.
I’m not usually one to notice things like cinematography and art direction, but the subtle ways R slowly regains his color and indeed the whole world regains its life is beautifully rendered. The soundtrack is near perfect, aided of course by R’s hipster leanings and aforementioned vinyl collection. The performances all range from solid to outstanding. Particularly of note is the casting of Rob Corddry as M, which goes from headscratching at first to practically stealing the movie by the end. He not only gets most of the funniest one-liners (zombies don’t have much more than one line at a time anyway!), but he turns out to be the real heart of the movie, figuratively and literally. It’s my brother’s gimmick to speculate on the Golden Zombey awards, but if I have anything to say about it (which I do), Corddry is a lock for a Supporting Actor nomination.
I am so happy that I gave in and allowed myself to be dragged to see this film. It was phenomenal and I walked out feeling not like I had just sat through some tween garbage, but like I had seen a Top 5 zombie film. Grade: A+