A film review by Craig J. Koban February 6, 2013
2013, PG-13, 97 mins.
2013, PG-13, 97 mins.
R: Nicholas Hoult /
Julie: Teresa Palmer /
Nora: Analeigh Tipton /
M: Rob Corddry /
BODIES has one of craziest – and most grisly – meet-cutes in movie
it a young woman named Julie (the fetching Teresa Palmer) is leading a
group of her friends sent by her father into a post-apocalyptic/zombie-ravaged city for some much needed medical supplies for their
enclave of human survivors. A
pack of flesh-hungry members of the undead attack her group.
One of the zombies, R (Nicolas Hoult) jumps on Julie’s boyfriend,
repeatedly smashes his head on the ground, kills him, and then proceeds to
gorge on his brains. While
doing this he locks eyes with the tomboyishly hot Leslie, packing a
pump-action shotgun and decimating R’s companions. R doesn’t kill or eat her, mostly because he’s just enamored
with her. He’s in love…or
at least he thinks. After all...he is a zombie.
on the Isaac Marion novel, WARM BODIES was written and directed by
Jonathan Levine, whom previously in 50/50
established himself as some sort of miracle man for making an endearingly
hilarious film about a
man suffering from cancer; it was some sort of
delicate balancing act, but Levine managed to pull it all off rather
successfully. In WARM BODIES
he is asked to perhaps do something even more impossibly difficult, which
is to make a feel-good romantic comedy with heart, soul, and
tenderness…that just happens to be set in a zombie-plagued hellscape and
has its pair of stair crossed lovers be a human and a ghoulish brain
utterly bat-shit silly as this whole premise is, WARM BODIES is a
highly rare commodity for how it manages to slyly embrace and subvert two
increasingly overused and stale genres – the romcom and the
zombie-survival horror film – while ingeniously giving a sly wink to one
particular William Shakespeare play.
That the film manages to do all of this with such brazen confidence
and fluidly is to its credit.
the biggest game-changing alteration to the zombie genre here is that it
finally places emphasis on their perspective of things and makes them, as
perverse as it sounds, engaging and likable characters.
R does not remember his name or even how he died ("I wish I could
introduce myself, but I don’t remember my name anymore, but my hoodie
would suggest that I was unemployed” he chimes in on an increasingly
amusing voice over narration track, revealing his inner undead thoughts).
He just pathetically ekes out a life of constant lurching,
grunting, and flesh and brain eating.
He does not particularly like it, but his condition is just a
natural and innate predatory impulse: he just does it (“I shouldn’t be
so hard on myself. After all, we’re all dead”).
He never once denies his hunger for eating people, but he
nonetheless does it to stay alive (“It’s kind of a bummer”).
lives at an abandoned airport and even has a friend in M (Rob Corddrey,
hilarious in his scenes with Hoult as they both communicate with
monosyllabic groans and the occasional attempt at a syllable or word).
R coops up in an abandoned airplane where he houses all of the
items that he has collected over the years (he even likes old records of
Bruce Springsteen because they “sound more alive”).
Eating brains provides a natural high for him and his companions,
as it allows them to see the memories of their victims (in a cool bit of
retrofitted mythologizing). This,
of course, brings us to his meet-cute with Julie.
R’s eating of her boyfriend’s brains lets R see his
memories of falling in love with her, which, in turn, somehow jump starts
R’s own peculiar transformation. His
heart begins to beat, his flesh gains more color, and he even can enunciate
more. He befriends and saves
Julie from the rest of his famished clan that would no doubt have killed
her. He takes her back to his
airplane pad…and this is where the real preposterous fun of the film
attempts at wooing over Julie’s heart have some serious roadblocks,
mostly because (a) he’s a walking corpse and (b) Julie and her human
survivors have been trained to shoot them in the head on sight.
Part of the film’s sneaky charm is in Hoult’s thankless
performance, as he struggles – through trial and error – to
communicate verbally and via body language with Julie and win over her
trust and affection (that, and he tells himself – via his thoughts –
“Don’t be creepy, don’t be creepy!”).
Slowly, but surely, R makes the improbable transition from
stuttering and uncoordinated zombie to a socially awkward teen suitor
who's becoming more human by the minute when around Julie.
Palmer – a naturally radiant screen presence with a Rachel
McAdams-like thousand watt smile – also has a tricky role: she plays
things straight and with restraint and poise, having to juggle initial repulsion and horror that segues into compassion and understanding for R
and his kind. The more R humanizes himself, the more Julie begins to fall
for him as well.
is all such a damning and inordinately challenging task of homogenizing
all of these wickedly divergent tones, but Levine remarkably makes it work
while making some cheeky referencing to ROMEO AND JULIET (the names R and
Julie clearly allude to the two doomed Shakespearian lovers, and R’s
friend M is a stand-in for Mercutio) and the film’s greatest sight gag
nod to the Bard has Julie on a balcony being greeted by a puppy-dog-eyed R
yearningly gazing up at her. R and Julie’s increasing fondness for one another is really
complicated, seeing as her father (John Malkovich, unexpectedly not
hamming it up here) is the leader of a militia that wants to eradicate
zombies once and for all. The
situation for everyone grows even more problematic when R’s other zombie
buddies begin to exhibit his humanizing transformative traits while the
really bad zombies, called "Bonies" (zombies that are so unthinking
and savage that they have
ripped off all of their flesh and are now just merciless killing machines),
have discovered that R and his posse are changing, making them targets as
The film gets bogged down in an obligatory three-way shoot-em-up battle between human survivors, the zombies, and the Bonies, during which we are greeted with half-hearted CGI effects and perfunctory boo-moments that distract from the overall sinful pleasures of the central romance contained within. Yet, there’s no denying the absolute freshness of approach and liberating novelty of WARM BODIES. If the film were too self-aware and self-congratulatory in its cinematic citations it would have been smugly off-putting to both die-hard purists of horror and romcoms. Yet, Levine finds just the right tone and tweaks and twists just enough of the staler and overused genre conventions here to make WARM BODIES twistedly enjoyable and fiendishly unique. That, and after countless TV and film iterations of zombies as unholy and decrepit monsters, this film manages to find the inner humanity lurking within all of them that wants to be liberated. As Hoult’s R passionately relays in one voiceover early in the film, “I just want to connect.”