Going into Warm Bodies, I was torn between genuine and overt excitement and sincere dread over the execution. This is a high concept and one that has tremendous potential but if history has shown us anything, it’s that Hollywood is very skilled at ruining high concept films. As the film’s release date grew closer, the one thing that calmed my nerves was the presence of writer-director Jonathan Levine, the man behind 2011’s 50/50. 50/50 has quickly asserted itself as one of my favorite movies ever and the craftsmanship that went into it is such that I immediately became a hardened endorser of Levine and all of his work. I’m happy to report that my newfound faith in this relatively inexperienced filmmaker was well deserved. In a world full of zombies (known as Corpses), R (Nicholas Hault) marches to the beat of his own drummer. He spends most of his time wandering around an abandoned airport trying to remember who he was and collecting artifacts from a now bygone age. But something happens to R when he comes in contact with Julie (Teresa Palmer), an actual human looking for medical supplies. Instead of eating her, R saves Julie and gets her out of harm’s way and over the next few days, their relationship causes a change in R: his speech begins to return, he engages in human activities like driving a car, and his heart begins to beat. Other corpses who see R and Julie interact begin to change as well and soon Julie realizes that the key to curing the zombies psychological, not medical. But with her father (John Malkovich) about to lead the human army into war, her revelation may have come too late.
From the start, Warm Bodies is a refreshing and unique experience. The voiceovers done by Hoult effectively take you into the mind of R and show him to be a thoughtful, intelligent being beset upon by unfortunate circumstances. Almost immediately, I found myself rooting for R and supporting his character. This is a crucial step in the success of the film as a disconnect with the audience early on would have turned Warm Bodies into yet another entry in a long line of sci-fi/fantasy films with a cool concept that couldn’t get off the ground. Instead, the movie starts strong and carries from there, bringing you closer and closer to understanding R and his comrades. Levine doesn’t spend any time on breaking down the origin of the disease and as such, makes it clear that this isn’t about zombies at all but rather the humans they once were and perhaps can become again. In this way Warm Bodies is really rather poetic, though this doesn’t get in the way of simply having a good time.
Much of Warm Bodies isn’t exactly laugh out loud funny but it is continuously humorous. The pacing sags a bit in the second act and stalls slightly but even in its weaker moments there’s an inherent enjoyableness to the film that stems not only from the concept but also from the lead. An up and comer in Hollywood, Hoult has tremendous charisma even when speaking in monosyllabic grunts and made up to look like the walking dead. His performance is easy and understated but he demonstrates the characters desire for redemption in an earnest, heartfelt way. The relationship between R and Julie is downright poignant at times and the combined efforts of Levine and Hoult keep it from becoming either too silly or too serious. Palmer isn’t anything special opposite Hoult but she also doesn’t take anything away from the film and it is, after all, clearly Hoult’s show to run and Palmer is just along for the ride. As a whole, Warm Bodies is a well-written film that balances a mix of genres quite well and while imperfect, it is certainly worth your time.
Warm Bodies Director: Jonathan Levine Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rod Corddry Rated: PG-13 (mild zombie related violence, some language) Recommended For: Sci-fi and fantasy geeks, date night participants, and teenagers 13 and up