The newest film to take a stab at reinventing the zombie genre, “Warm Bodies,” is certainly a soulful romance. Adapted from the book of the same name by Isaac Marion, this film bridges the gap between “Twilight” haters and lovers by showing audiences the earth-shattering agony of adolescent love and rejection within the parameters of a horror story — without the undertones of domestic abuse. This post-apocalyptic film is set in a desolated city where survivors of a zombie takeover live surrounded by a huge concrete wall guarded by soldiers. On the outer limits of the city is a network of zombies, known as “corpses,” who troll for flesh and shuffle around an empty airport. Also in the mix are creatures called “bonies” who are former corpses who gave up hope for recovery.
The lead character is a corpse named R, whose voiceover provides insight into the true nature of the corpse community, one of utter loneliness and moral affliction of eating people. R has all the trappings of the stereotypical hipster; he collects things others consider junk, only plays vinyl for the better sound quality and continuously wears a red hoodie. He has no true backstory because he, like every other corpse, doesn’t remember who he was before he became a zombie.
Still, R encounters a human named Julie (Teresa Palmer,”Love and Humor”) and saves her life from his fellow zombies. As R holds her captive, he falls in love with her, and both slowly realize the potential for change and hope for humankind’s resurrection. A much deeper connection links them as R occasionally devours the brains of Julie’s former boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco, “21 Jump Street”), and gains all his memories of Julie — a type of corpse-dreaming.
Nicolas Hoult (“X-Men: First Class”) is perfectly cast as R. Hoult gives a great performance as the speechless, limb-dragging zombie with a confused look on his face which, most times, is overshadowed with longing looks at his female companion. There are other interesting performances throughout “Warm Bodies.” John Malkovich (“RED”) plays a widowed general who is hell-bent on revenging zombies. Rob Corddray (“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) plays a friend of R and another element of sweetness and sad sack of self-reflection to this rom-com, and Analeigh Tipton (“Crazy, Stupid, Love.”) plays Julie’s best friend who comes off as concerned but eccentric.
Because this is a love story, audiences might expect some large, catastrophic circumstances that would keep the main couple from each other, apart from the fact one of them is dead. But “Warm Bodies” lacks horror, or even basic tension, because there is no real villain in the film. There are obstacles, but no grand force that needs to be thwarted. The bonies descending on the human compound, Julie’s overprotective father and the plight of the newly heart-beating corpses are meant to be overcome, but “Warm Bodies” doesn’t make them into difficult problems to solve.
Julie’s father is the only thing keeping these two star-crossed lovers apart, but the film doesn’t provide a full story explaining why he’s so angry at the corpses. Yes, his wife dies at their hands, and it’s easy to admire the subtlety of merely mentioning it in passing in order to make his motives memorable, but it’s too weak.
The ending of “Warm Bodies” comes off as nearly anti-climactic because there is no huge fight scene that challenges the main couple’s fate. The outcome of the film shows only humans and zombies gaining understanding from those who were hurt by the zombie apocalypse, all wrapped with themes of fear of change or recognition.
Since the film incorporates many grand illusions to “Romeo and Juliet,” (R, Romeo; Julie, Juliet; Perry, Paris; Marcus, Mercutio; Norah, the Nurse) it would have been better if there was someone to overcome besides Julie’s father, who is only opposed to R because he’s an undead — which seems fairly rational. Furthermore, the cure to the zombie-state was nothing special or mind-blowing, as it wasn’t completely biological and came without explanation. The ending did tie in with the sweetness of the love story and the overall tone of the film.
Because “Warm Bodies” didn’t quite fit into the rom-com or zombie genres, the film should be appreciated. However, elements of the film could have been stronger. Still, “Warm Bodies” is one of the better love stories, and one that becomes complicated, not because of a tangled script, but through human emotion or undead emotions.
3.5 out of 5