I am not a fan of zombies. I could never get into them—they’re gross and scary and have no redeeming qualities, as far as I’m concerned. So it was a little surprising for me when, after seeing the trailer for Warm Bodies, I immediately though, “That looks like a film I would like to see.” Probably a lot of that had to do with the fact that Nicholas Hoult, who I’ve loved since I saw him over a decade ago in About a Boy, plays the lead character R. It also looked funny, and so I defied my natural inclination to cringe at all things zombie related and go see the film when it was released earlier this month.
In case you don’t know already, the plot of Warm Bodies is simple: zombie-boy R falls in love with human girl Julie after eating her boyfriend’s brain. He saves/kidnaps her, and during the time they spend together he finds himself changing, becoming more and more human as his love for her grows. They’ve found a cure for the zombie apocalypse! But how to convince Julie’s father, the head of the human resistance, that the cure really works? Shenanigans ensue!
You may have noticed that the names of the two title characters are a thinly-veiled Romeo and Juliet reference, but never fear—with the exception of one balcony scene, that’s pretty much where the resemblances end.
A big victory for this movie is the likability of it’s main character, R. It’s hard to get an audience to root for someone who looks dead and eats brains on screen more than once. I can only assume that most of the credit for R’s winning disposition is due to author Isaac Marion, who wrote the novel the film is based on, but Hoult’s commitment to the role doesn’t hurt either—he seriously deserves some props for how long he had to act dead for. I had assumed that his return to humanity would progress at a rather rapid rate, because, gross, dead person. But Warm Bodies shows a lot of integrity in this department, and R’s change from undead to living is very gradual. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to have to keep your face so expressionless and shoulders so hunched. R only becomes really, truly alive-looking in the final scene of the film, and by then you’ve been waiting for it for so long that his rosy cheeks and tousled hair are even more adorable than they would be under normal circumstances (and that’s pretty adorable).
And R’s appearance isn’t his only charm. His internal dialogue as he faces the ups and downs…mostly downs…of life as a zombie is utterly charismatic, and often not too far off the mark from those many of us narrate ourselves: he feels he is different from those around him, he wants more from his life but he doesn’t know what to do about it, he likes a girl but is certain she will never return his feelings. In fact, my boyfriend loved this movie. He identified completely with R—“He epitomizes the plight of the socially awkward guy looking for love. I can get behind any movie that’s going to glorify that.” In addition, R is delightfully quirky. He likes records and collecting old things. You root for him, and that’s an important reason why this film works.
The film’s leading lady Julie, played by Teresa Palmer, also deserves praise. Although her performance wasn’t revolutionary, it was totally believable, which for a female character is saying something, in both the rom-com and horror industries. It’s always fun to see a bad-ass girl on the big screen, and Julie could shoot a semi-automatic and take down the undead with the best of them. She’s not complacent after finding herself stuck with a weird dead guy in a zombie-filled airport—she tries to escape multiple times, even though she inevitably gets trapped in some corner by people who want to eat her brains. At the same time, she hasn’t got a cliche tough-girl-I’ve been-hurt-before attitude. Julie has weathered horrific tragedies, but she still dreams of the day when life can return to normal, and is willing to put her trust in someone that for years she has been relentlessly assured is the enemy. She is nice, sweet, fun, strong, and pretty—it is not a stretch of the imagination to see why R likes her.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I’m a sucker for romantic comedies, and this falls firmly into that category, even if it does involve zombies. Further, it’s a very good romantic comedy. I’d put it right next to Sweet Home Alabama on my DVD shelf. Warm Bodies has it all: action, romance, a killer soundtrack—with tunes by Bon Iver and Bob Dylan, among others–and a couple of truly sweet scenes (I loved the moment when R and Julie drive around an abandoned red convertible). Plus the stakes are higher—a more decomposed form of undead called Bonies are trying to kill R and Julie to prevent knowledge of the cure from spreading, not to mention that Julie’s dad isn’t too hot on his daughter dating a dead guy. Warm Bodies manages to be engaging and cute without becoming too saccharine. Plus, there was only a teensy bit of brain eating. It’s a win all around.