Why must I be a teen zombie in love?
The undead have feelings, too (sort of)
By Tim Pompey 02/07/2013
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich
Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language
1 hr. 37 mins.
Forget everything you assumed about zombies, those ravenous dead bodies that do nothing but stumble around and tear people apart. OK, so that’s still not far from the truth, but according to the film Warm Bodies, there’s at least one zombie who’s different. You know this because . . . he’s the film’s narrator and, given his lack of social skills, that’s no small feat.
Watching Warm Bodies runs against the grain of everything you know about zombiology. It’s like learning for the first time that our round planet is actually flat, or that the sky you gaze up at is really underneath your head. But that’s the amusing premise of this film. In a city overrun by flesh-eating beings, there’s still a small crack left open for zombie love.
Setting all zombie logic aside, this tongue-in-cheek story (based on a novel by Isaac Marion) has some funny moments and some sharp observations. If only it had stuck to those, it might even have grown into a comedy classic. Instead, it seems to waffle unevenly between biting humor and sentimental romance. Still, as ideas go, this is a good one, and when the comedy takes center stage, it’s a winner.
The narrating zombie known as R (Nicholas Hoult) lives in an abandoned jetliner and wanders aimlessly through an airport feeling confused and lonely. He has a group of zombie friends he hunts with. One friend called M (Rob Corddry) sits regularly with him at an airport bar and together they grunt.
On the other side of a large wall are the human survivors from this current zombie infestation. They are led by their military guru Grigio (John Malkovich). One day, he sends his daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer), her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and a group of friends out into the zombie city to forage for medical supplies. While they’re in a pharmacy, they are attacked by R and his friends.
R kills Perry and eats his brains. You see, he’s partial to brains because they trigger the victim’s memories and make him feel better. As he’s chewing away, he sees Julie being attacked and connects Perry’s memories to her face. Wouldn’t you know it? It’s love at first bite.
R rescues Julie and takes her to his jetliner, where she begins to realize that something good is happening to him. It’s love turning him into a better zombie. Now her challenge is to go back home and explain this to daddy.
This is one of those movies where more is less, and where a successful joke requires the deft use of facial expressions and body movements. Most of all, it requires good timing and a willingness to let silence be part of the comedy.
I think director Jonathan Levine understands this and lets Hoult carry the film with not much more than his perplexed face, severe speech impediment and shuffling feet. Combined with the great comedy skills of fellow zombie Corddry, the premise is really quite funny. It’s when the other live characters arrive that the movie seems to lose some steam and become bogged down.
Given the romantic story line, I suppose this is inevitable. After all, this is a tale about a teenage zombie who falls in love. The best parts, however, are more broadly zombie-humanlike, aimed at the living as well as the dead.
Even though the film lingers a bit too long on the love story, it does manage to keep its comedic edge and keep the idea fresh. Sappy? Yes, sometimes, but there’s still enough life in this zombie flick to make it quirky, observant and, dare I say it, sweet. Chalk one up for the zombies. I guess that everyone, living or dead, deserves a shot at love.