Warm Bodies is Twilight done right. Just swap the sparkly vampires for flesh-eating zombies, up the acting ability of the entire cast, improve the dialogue and turn it all into a rom-com – with emphasis on the ‘com’. That’s the gist of writer-director Jonathan Levine’s latest, a post-apocalyptic romance filled with deadpan humour as a zombie called ‘R’ (Nicholas Hoult; X-Men: First Class) falls in love with a human survivor named Julie (Teresa Palmer; The Sorcerer’s Apprenctice) after having eaten the brains of her boyfriend. Levine previously directed the critical hit 50/50, which featured in many top 10 lists of the best films of 2011, and the talent that he brought to bear on that production is clearly on display here.
In Warm Bodies, it turns out that zombies don’t sleep but by eating the brains of people they can ‘download’ their memories; eating brains is the closest thing to dreaming that they have. R therefore develops a certain fondness of Julie due to her boyfriend’s memories, and so desires to protect her from other zombies and jerky CGI ‘bonies’ (zombies that have deteriorated so much that they are basically just burning hunger and bone). Since R can’t really talk – the zombies generally just grunt and only occasionally make out a word with effort – Hoult provides narration describing his ‘thoughts’ and what it’s like to be one of the undead.
R has ‘almost conversations’ with his best friend, a zombie portrayed by Rob Corddry. Corddry has two of the most hilarious and quotable lines I’ve heard at the movies this year, and this is indicative of Warm Bodies generally. The characters have terrific comic timing, as evidenced in R’s attempts to charm Julie despite his innate zombie creepiness. Levine really capitalises on the awkwardness of this love story, smartly pushing the comedy to the fore rather than the romance. The result is a surprisingly cheerful movie despite the plot’s drab post-apocalyptic pretence.
The more affection Julie shows R, the more he learns to live again. Do zombies really just need a little tender loving care to be human again? Unfortunately, Julie’s dad is the leader of the human survivors and prefers to shoot zombies first then ask questions. This dour chap is none other than a stern John Malkovich (RED), sadly underutilised for most of the movie. Even so, Malkovich acts as a key source of dramatic conflict and is always a welcome sight whenever he graces the screen. While it’s a bit of a shame that the story resolves as predictably as it does (you can probably guess the ending already), Warm Bodies still charms with its unabashed optimism and deliberately awkward, deadpan humour.
A zombie falls in love with the daughter of John Malkovich – a pinpoint rom-com-zom ensues.