Directed by Jonathan Levine
Written by Jonathan Levine; Based on the novel by Isaac Marion
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, and John Malkovich
Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language
Running Time of 97 Minutes
As we tumble deeper and deeper down the pop culture rabbit hole (I’ve lost track of how far postmodern we’ve gone), the idea of genre becomes increasingly tenuous. Mashups, revisionism, references, and the meta-textual have become widely utilized and accepted in the modern cinematic language. We are in arguably the geekiest era in the history of film (the 80s might have something to say about that, but alas) and in many ways the geeks are now cool. Warm Bodies is a film that embraces this notion and uses it to great affect. Adapted from Isaac Marion’s novel, Warm Bodies has created a scenario wherein for the first time in my memory I can call a zombie movie adorable. A bit fluffy, perhaps, but filled to the brim with subversive joy and optimism, screenwriter/director Jonathan Levine has made a film that’s a delightful pop confection.
At the center of the film are Julie and R. One’s a human, one’s a zombie. Through each character we begin to see a vision of this particular post-apocalyptic world, and it’s an exceedingly clever one. Clear care was put into the creation of this universe’s rules (much of which stems from Marion’s novel, as I understand it) and the whys and hows of the zombies and their even scarier skeleton brethren is a neat twist that makes this zombie story feel somehow fresh. On the human side, Teresa Palmer (Julie) shines with a certain joie de vivre that I have not seen from her previous and John Malkovich adds a certain gravitas as her father who also happens to be the militaristic leader of the human population. They are lucky survivors of the zombie outbreak, fighting for their lives and attempting to hold on to any sense of normalcy that’s left. Our zombie protagonist is Nicholas Hoult (R), who delivers a phenomenally charming and witty performance. R narrates the film, and the clash between his internal humanity and his external zombieness becomes an aching bit of satire as the film evolves. R’s best zombie friend, M, is portrayed by the hilarious Rob Corddry who is afforded the opportunity to show his softer side in some emotional moments of self-realization.
After the terrific 50/50, Jonathan Levine continues to evolve his style and his specific talents are becoming quite clear. Levine has the ability to wrench these odd yet powerful scenes of poignancy out of unexpected moments. His soundtrack and tonal choices are inspired, and they allow him to imbue this zombie movie with a great deal of warmth. There are some intense and surprisingly violent moments here to be sure and some exciting action scenes, and it is clear that Warm Bodies does fall somewhere on the horror film spectrum, but it ultimately has more in common with the great 1980s teen romantic comedies. Somehow thanks both to the chemistry and charm of Hoult and Palmer, and Levine’s spirited touch, the falling in love of a human and a zombie doesn’t feel silly but somehow beautiful. Levine also shows a knack for staging great, isolated moments of physical comedy that Hoult and Corddry deliver with glee. Levine, working with his director of photography Javier Aguirresarobe, has created some beautiful imagery and lingering moments of passion and humanity.
Yes, beautiful humanity. That’s the key to Warm Bodies after all. Zombies have been used as a metaphor for the human condition before, and Warm Bodies does it agan with an irascible sense of subversiveness. R’s humanity struggles to come out, but as we see perhaps humanity wasn’t all that great before the apocalypse to begin with. Warm Bodies, in sentimental fashion that may not appease the most cynical among us, argues that we need to embrace life more fully and enjoy everything around us. We have to make connections on the basic human level and cannot judge people for their simple physical affectations. Warm Bodies may just be a cute and witty ball of zombie/romantic comedy entertainment, but it also has a strong will and a lot to say. There is an under-riding joy at play, mixed with Levine’s strong craft, that I think makes Warm Bodies fairly special indeed.