In 1985 George Romero directed Day of the Dead. One of the dominant themes came from the character Bub, a zombie who through scientific investigation was used as an instrument to find out whether these flesh-eating monsters still held any remnants of humanity. He also provided the film with a triumphant climax amidst all the gore and chaos. It’s an under-appreciated classic, that’s snubbed when placed by its older brothers in Night and Dawn; yet this one aspect of Day of the Dead has carried on as a strong alternative take on the sub-genre.
The latest and possibly most mainstream offering in this tradition is Warm Bodies, based on a novel by Isaac Marion and adapted by Jonathan Levine for his 4th feature film. The set up to Warm Bodies will be familiar to anybody remotely familiar with the genre. The world has succumbed to a zombie horde that is divided up between those flesh-eaters who still have their humanoid form and those who have succumbed to the hunger and are nothing more than a skeleton with the hunger, referred to as Boney’s. What little humanity is left hides behind thick metal walls fighting for scraps of medicine and food out in their hopeless fight for survival. The film centres on two people in this world, the first is a zombie played by Nicholas Hoult, who displays personality traits that pay fitting homage to Bub and Julie played Teresa Palmer, a teenager with little to live for in an unforgiving world. The two meet with R saving Julie, a random event that changes this world forever.
The film is told from the perspective of Nicholas Hoult’s zombie. Although he is a zombie, he still manages to narrate over proceedings which asks questions of how the rules of this world work. Without this film would become a very dry affair and many of the best jokes would be cut from the film. The one comment that has to be made on Hoult’s performance is just how impressive it is. For much of the film he is incapable of saying anything more than simple words (outside of his narration). With mumbled phrases, blank expressions and a huddled posture, Hoult manages to carry the film, making R a very likeable lead in the process.
On the contrary the human element of the story isn’t all that interesting, Julie may do a lot of the leg work with the dialogue but we become invested in the story and their unlikely blossoming love by observing the world through R’s eyes. Essentially Julie plays the typical female lead in these types of films, while it is true she is more of a positive role model than can be found in other, similarly inclined films, she still isn’t given much to do.
For those cynical heads out there, it is possible to state that this film is the zombie equivalent of the Twilight franchise. However to make such a statement would be ignoring just how much fun Warm Bodies is. With sly comments & references to keep the blood flowing and many scenes stole by scene-stealer extraordinaire Rob Corddry, Warm Bodies is a funny film. With the rest of the cast filled out by Dave Franco, Analeigh Tipton and John Malkovich doing his best over-protective Dad bit, the film is well served on every level.
It’s not all good news, especially when it comes to the background detail. For instance, it’s at least 8 years into a zombie apocalypse and the survivors are going into occupied territory to find found that would be so old it would be tantamount to eating poison, they do this instead of looking into self-sustainability. It’s a considerable oversight. The other problem comes from the zombie horde that seem over-powered and a little too intelligent, even before their evolution. It’s admirable that the creative behind Warm Bodies make their own rules, however they don’t always make sense. On a more visual front, the computer animation used to bring the boney’s to life is very weak.
Even with the thread that charts the relationship between R and Julie being a little predictable, the film is shot and performed with such exuberance that it becomes an incredibly easy film to just sit back and enjoy. Levine does enough to keep the more mainstream audiences and genre aficionados happy in this funny, charming and most notably optimistic zombie film. After years of despair, death and destruction, the value of an optimistic zombie picture cannot be undermined. Warm Bodies is a shock to system in the most pleasant way imaginable.