Nicholas Hoult is R, a young man facing the existential crisis that comes with being a zombie. Grunting his way through a post-apocalyptic America with the mindless hunger of the undead, R has no memories, but he has dreams and his inner life is full of wonder and longing for the time that must have gone before.
WARM BODIES is an obvious creative conceit for a genre over-stuffed with variations. In the past decade, big studios and independent filmmakers have made countless flicks about the shuffling-and sometimes running-undead. The idea is a cliché, the trope is played out, the zeitgeist is groaning under the weight of a myriad of zombie films. So the thought of a yet another, this time from the point of view of the zombie, wasn’t too promising, especially as I had seen something along these lines made for Tropfest not too many years ago.
Writer Director Jonathan Levine (adapting Isaac Marion’s book) is aware of this problem and has created a clever mainstream movie that nimbly handles the banality of the genre. Teens and 20-somethings are the obvious audience for WARM BODIES, however it ticks a number of boxes that give it a wider appeal.
The story is a take on Romeo and Juliet. Hoult as R and Teresa Palmer as Julie are an undeniably attractive couple. We like them because their love is star-crossed and they have more than the standard two dimensions. Julie’s dad (Malkovich) is the leader of the walled city all the humans live in. Their father-daughter relationship is problematical. She sees him as inflexible and distant. We sense that she enjoys going on scavenger missions outside the wall to get some distance from him. Our way into R’s world is even more direct. We are privy to his interior monologue. I’m not a fan of this technique usually, however here it makes sense. R is a virtually mute creature, zombies aren’t supposed to talk or even to think, so his voiceover lets us in on the sensitive soul inside the brain-craving monster.
Hoult and Palmer put in solid performances in the lead roles. Hoult has been an actor to watch for some time now and Palmer will be offered even better roles on the strength of her portrayal of the resourceful Julie. According to IMDb the Australian actress, who hails from Adelaide, used to work in the Rundle Mall Cotton On and was in fact discovered there and offered a role in Murali K Thalluri’s film 2:37 (2006). So there’s a tip for young actresses, in addition to taking classes, snag a job at Cotton On, it’s Schwab’s drug store for the new millennium.
Other notable performances are Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s best friend Nora and Rob Codry as R’s best friend Marcus. Although I always enjoy seeing Cordry doing his archetypal sarcastic man-child bit (e.g. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE), it’s good to see him work some other acting muscles.
The film borrows ideas from other zom-coms like SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND, yet it has its own comic take. It has lightly satirical things to say about the pre-apocalypse world of our time. It also has some nice gags about relationships in general and getting to know a new person in particular. The combination of crowd-pleasing comedy and a straightforward romantic storyline, make this a sweet, funny film that will entertain most audiences. It probably won’t impress horror fans, but if you want to see a showdown between the human heart and a zombie hoard, then this is the movie for you.
WARM BODIES is on Australian screens now, it runs for 98 minutes. I rate it 7/10