What do you get when you cross Romeo and Juliet with George Romero? You get a refreshingly original zombie romance in the form of Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies. Told from the POV of a teenage zombie who’s grown apathetic with his post-apocalyptic existence, Warm Bodies delivers a sweet, funny and fresh take on a classic teenage love story.
Nicholas Hoult is R, a hoodie-wearing zombie who lives in an abandoned airport that houses a community of the undead. R, so named because he can’t remember his real name save for the fact that it began with R, is restless, bored and just a little bit emo—but in an endearing way. He and his best friend, M, played to perfection by Rob Corddry, mostly sit around at the airport bar and grunt at each other before it’s time to track down humans and feed on their brains, the preferred meal of zombies everywhere.
During one such hunt, he stumbles upon a group of kids (Teresa Palmer as Julie, Dave Franco as Perry and Analeigh Tipton as Nora) who live behind The Wall, the giant barrier separating the remaining humans from the zombies and Bonies, the skeletal undead who have lost all traces of humanity and transformed into bloodthirsty predators. The gang is out gathering medicine for the settlement when they’re attacked. R cracks open Perry’s head and starts feasting on his tasty brains, which gives him the intoxicating effect of absorbing Perry’s memories. In the flashbacks, he sees Perry’s relationship with Julie and instantly falls for her, saving her from the other zombies but abducting her and taking her back to zombie HQ at the airport.
R has trouble expressing his feelings to Julie at first, he is a zombie after all, but soon the two are able to communicate and grow quite fond of one another. Julie, whose father (John Malkovich) is leader of the human resistance, starts to see that maybe the undead aren’t as mindless as she thought.
Their budding romance is met with skepticism from Julie’s friends and with utter dismissal by her father, but she’s able to prove that this crazy little thing called love can jumpstart the hearts of the walking corpses.
Hoult deserves epic praise for his ability to bring personality to a character who is, by definition, emotionless. He conveys the awkward fascination and clumsy flirtation of a teenage boy in love through subtle facial expressions and shoulder shrugs. R’s inner monologues are witty and humorous, but even during a lengthy session where we don’t get a glimpse in his head, he’s still dynamic and appealing.
Corddry is a scene stealer with grunts, groans and the biggest laugh of the film in a scene where R is trying to explain his love for Julie with his limited zombie vocabulary. Dead Rob Corddry can be just as funny as living Rob Corddry.
Palmer serves us a tough, clever and sassy heroine who isn’t fazed by being the captive of a friendly corpse. Tipton, who took third place on cycle 11 of America’s Next Top Model, brings great humor to the role of Nora, which is somewhat reminiscent of Olivia Thrilby in Juno. Franco works with limited minutes, but gives off that “little shit” vibe needed for Perry. Malkovich’s part is also small, but he has the intensity needed for a man whose whole world has become about defeating the zombie scourge.
After the endless teenage vampire romance flicks of the past few years, it’s nice to see zombies getting a little depth with a film like this, adapted from author Isaac Marion’s book of the same title. Warm Bodies brings some life to the undead and gives us a sweet, funny and original zom-rom-com.