I think it’s best that I deal with the Twilight comparison upfront by saying that Warm Bodies is hardly anything like it. The current wave and demand for “supernatural romance” is a strange one, so at some point, we were going to get a zombie love story. Warm Bodies is based off a novel, much like most of today’s teen-targeted films cashing in on the Twilight success, with many coming out this year. Though what makes Warm Bodies so intriguing is that, unlike Beautiful Creatures and The Host, it’s a comedy. The film is directed and written by Jonathan Levine, known for helming comedies like The Wackness and 50/50, but also a horror movie called All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. Considering his broad background, Warm Bodies had great potential to be much more than Twilight, and rather be a film that truly captures what a “zombie romance” would actually be like. Although it doesn’t fully deliver on its premise, Warm Bodies is still a unique and charming romantic comedy.
The movie tells the story of R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie who just wants to feel alive in the dreaded remains of a zombie outbreak. He spends his time living in an airport, pondering about what humanity on earth was like before everything fell to ruins. The only social contact he has is with his “best friend,” M (Rob Corddry), even though their conversations don’t consist of many words, or any at all. Zombie life seems to casually go on for R, up until he meets a human named Julie (Teresa Palmer), who he instantly falls for. After R rescues Julie during a zombie attack, the two develop a relationship they would have never imagined. Julie realizes R is more lifelike than any zombie she’s ever seen, as R starts to notice the side effects of love. As R begins to change, he and Julie believe this could help end the zombie apocalypse, if only it wasn’t for Julie’s father (John Malkovich), the leader of the survivors, who is hell-bent on killing every zombie in sight.
As I’ve said, director Jonathan Levine has the experience to tackle comedy and horror, and he successfully joins them together in Warm Bodies. He portrays the zombie apocalypse to being just as creepy as you would expect, but he pokes a lot of fun at the ridiculousness of it. Levine plays a lot with the idea of an existential, love-struck teenage zombie and ends up with some hilarious results. The film’s actors also, dare I say it, bring a lot of life to their characters. Nicholas Hoult really stands out in this movie as R. This is no phoned-in, pretty boy performance. Hoult is totally believable as the lonely and socially awkward teen zombie, and has some good chemistry with Teresa Palmer. There’s also a surprisingly likable performance by Rob Corddry, who you would assume would go over-the-top in his role, but instead plays it with a lot of subtlety and heart, while still being really funny.
Now, I wish I could say that the directing and acting carried the film on their own, because I was really satisfied with both, but even with all that, Warm Bodies lacks the emotional depth it sets out to have. Jonathan Levine’s screenplay is at fault here. The movie clocks in at 97 minutes, but if takes 20-30 minutes more to really get to know some of these characters so they can get to where they are at in the end, so be it. The screenplay takes too many shortcuts in introducing and resolving conflicts. We move through character arcs way too quickly, and because of it, the final act feels rushed. It was really disappointing to see, as the film’s concept holds a lot of promise. The script does a passable job to make the movie work, but you would really wish it were better.
With all that being said, I still had a good time at the movies with Warm Bodies. I’ve been waiting for something to be worth watching this year at the movie theater, as most of January consisted of critical flops. Even though the script doesn’t work as well as it should, Jonathan Levine continues to prove himself as a director, from its cinematic look to its choice of music, and the performances are memorable, too. Casual moviegoers, whether you love or hate Twilight, will really enjoy the movie, while film snobs will be asking for more and cynics will be quick to dismiss it. Basically, if you’re looking for the best option at the theater right now, I give Warm Bodies a solid recommendation. It also makes for a perfect date night on Valentine’s Day. There’s really something for everyone in this movie.