Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, John Malkovich, Cory Hardrict.
Director: Jonathan Levine
Rating: PG-13 (for zombie violence and some language.)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Date: February 1, 2013
Make Movies, Mandeville Films, and Summit Entertainment.
Written by: Jonathan Levine; adapted from the novel “Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion.
And just like that, with a turn of the page, a flick of the wrist, January 2013 is gone and February arrives with a very good and entertaining new movie. Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies is one precocious zombie-infused romantic comedy, nailing down a sharp wit, self-deprecating tone, and engagingly playful demeanor.
A recent plague has given rise to a devastating zombie apocalypse and America has been reduced to ruins with surviving humans living with militaristic protection behind walls and in isolation. One faction of young men and women are sent out to retrieve medicine and medical supplies at the direction of a tightly wound General (John Malkovich). After arriving at an abandoned airport, the group discover a haven of zombies and sadly, not everyone survives.
Amongst those killed is Perry (Dave Franco), the boyfriend of the General’s daughter, Julie (Teresa Palmer), also on the recovery mission. During the human/zombie battle, Julie locks eyes with a young 20-something zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult), almost immediately after Perry is killed. R serves as our narrator, sharing a fully lucid and functioning internal dialogue, but only able to grunt and moan when it comes to communicating. R continually stares at Julie with a disarming look of love and curiosity and while Julie is scared to death, R cannot quantify his emotions. That he has emotions at all surprises R, and provides conflicting emotions since those feelings arise from the most grisly of circumstances. In the chaos and confusion of the zombie/human battle, R “saves” Julie and stows her away in a ravaged airplane.
As R communicates and shares his thoughts, we begin to understand that R is a pretty nice and sweet-natured guy. He is as confused by his condition as we are, since in zombie mythology we are conditioned to believe that the undead have no thoughts, function completely on bloodthirsty instinct, and can be eliminated with a simple gunshot blast to the head. Julie sees R as different than the rest of the zombies, but still a thing to manipulate to gain her freedom. Undeterred, if not growing more and more confident, R continues to be kind, muttering words like “safe” and “not safe” when Julie is forced to stay or asks to be freed. He protects her from the other zombies and the more she reciprocates, the more R can connect.
Featuring a breakout performance from Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies is unique and quite fun. Hoult moves his character past caricature and develops R as a young man, full-blooded and imbibed with heart and soul. Instantly we like R and inexplicably he becomes someone we root for, almost in spite of his situation. Jonathan Levine struck gold with 2011’s cancer dramedy 50/50 and this film’s tone and temperament falls somewhere between that more serious fare and his 2008 debut The Wackness. Building on Seattle author Isaac Marion’s acclaimed novel, Levine has crafted a winning screenplay with ample room for the zombie formula to be rechristened as something new and innovative.
After a fantastic 20 minute opening, Warm Bodies settles in comfortably. While the film never recaptures the lofty heights those initial minutes promise, the film’s playful nature and reliance on 1980s music to punctuate the soundtrack brings forth many smiles. At times, when Levine dabbles in conventional romantic comedy formulas, the film starts to unravel, but there’s always a moment, often from Hoult or his best zombie friend M (Rob Corddry), which brings things back to focus.
Without revealing were things end up, Warm Bodies flips the zombie tale around pretty creatively and the Shakespearean influence of two fated lovers whose names start with an R and J, threaded through the book, is perhaps more pronounced here. Truth is, there are hints of a lot of familiar films and stories in Warm Bodies, but with some great performances and a vulnerability and self-awareness few films are willing to share with its viewers, Jonathan Levine’s film has more than enough life and vitality.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Just a good time at the movies. Warm Bodies is an easy watch, smart and well written and speaks beyond a perceived tween fanbase.
- Nicholas Hoult is a familiar face who has put in the time to earn his first starring role. Hoult delivers in a pretty challenging role and should come out the other side of this a bigger star than ever before.
- Points scored for altering the zombie formula with some rearranging and refashioning on the mythology. Zombie story fans might like where and how the film wraps up its story.
- Some people will never watch a zombie movie, no matter the circumstances.
- Purists may see this as nothing more than a Twilight style film for zombie fans. Far better than any of those Twilight films, the young adult love story does have moments straight out of Teen Romance Movie 101.
- Some have complained that the film tries to be too much of everything and not enough of one thing. Is it funny? A horror film? A suspense/thriller? A romance? Overall, I felt the film worked mostly well in shifting between tones, but some feel it is too distracted.