A highly elastic sub-genre, zombie films tend to fall into one of three categories: “message” (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of…, Day of… ); “gross-out gore with humor” movies (Evil Dead II, Dead Alive, Return of the Living Dead); or the inverse of the former, “humorous with gore” (Shaun of the Dead, Fido, Zombieland). Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies is an unfussy yet remarkably non-committal tweak of the first and the last categories.
Based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name, Warm Bodies opens with young zombie R’s (Nicholas Hoult) voiceover, revealing himself as a monster with a rich inner life of angst, incapable of expressing himself outside of groaning (or a word or two, with effort). After he and bestie-for-death M (an unsurprisingly funny Rob Corddry) decide to gather a small horde of fellow dead-heads and shuffle off toward the city to search for some tasty human flesh, they encounter a small band of young survivors of the zombie apocalypse. It goes very poorly for the humans, leaving just Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton), alive. Nora successfully hides, while Julie is rescued by R, who was immediately smitten—particularly after absorbing the memory of her boyfriend (Dave Franco), upon eating his brain. (Yes, eating a brain bestows memories to the consumer. Just go with it.)
After stowing Julie away in the derelict 737 plane R calls home, a Beauty and the Beast effect—or as the DSM calls it, Stockholm Syndrome—comes into play. Over a few days—and after many a precious hipster affectation has been demonstrated—Julie begins to notice signs of life returning to R. Credit to the film, at least, for allowing Julie to come to her senses a couple of times and attempt to escape; it really is tough to see the humanity in someone who noshed on one’s significant other.
Fear not! Warm Bodies is really just a light teen romance. (The nod to Romeo & Juliet is more of a shrug, balcony scene notwithstanding.) Dead boy and live girl will eventually get together. And by the time they do, Warm Bodies will have displayed exactly enough competence throughout to jostle the story from Point A to Point B. There’s little here one hasn’t seen, or seen done better—it just happens to represent a shallow foray into a heretofore-unexplored sub-sub-genre. Is this likely to be the definitive take of love in the age of zombies? Probably not. Instead, Warm Bodies shambles along as inoffensively as its “regular” zombies—with little fright, little gore and an occasional chuckle. But, as a mild diversion that won’t bother either person on a date, one could do far worse.
Director: Jonathan Levine
Writers: Jonathan Levine, Isaac Marion
Starring:, Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Rob Corddry
Release Date: Feb. 1, 2013