‘Warm Bodies’ Review
'Warm Bodies' is a supernatural teen love story with a brain. (Excuse me. . .BRAINS!) It is hardly a memorable film, and certainly a step back for director Jonathan Levine after the masterful '50/50,' but it's cute, and if you are a high schooler looking for a date flick or slightly older and chaperoning your niece you could do a hell of a lot worse.
We open on the shuffling, undead gait of a young zombie played by Nicholas Hoult (Beast from 'X-Men: First Class'). He's wandering around an airport, home to a great number of other zombies, in a mindless, bumbling stupor. But he isn't mindless – indeed, his mind works quite well, and his interior monologue guides us through the first act of the film. He may not remember his name, or exactly how the zombie apocalypse broke out, but he's got enough going on up upstairs to explain the “rules” of this particular world.
Basically, it sucks to be an undead corpse. You can't talk or walk fast and eventually you will give up all hope, rip off your skin and become a poorly CG-designed skeleton called a “boney.” Eventually you and your fellow corpses will get so hungry you will need to go out looking around for live bodies to feast on. The best (most nutritious?) part of a living human is their brain and in eating that you also consume and “read” their thoughts, memories and dreams.
In “the city” there is what may be the last American outpost of regular, live humans. Fortified behind a giant cement wall and living under martial law (with John Malkovich as Commander-in-chief) the citizens still send out guerrilla raiders for supplies. Among them, Teresa Palmer (Malkovich's idealistic daughter) and her boyfriend Dave Franco.
Palmer's group runs afoul of Hoult's and after Hoult eats Franco's brains, he also acquires his love for Palmer. (Well, who wouldn't? She's gorgeous. Hoult would have fallen for her anyway.) The scene is done well, with a nice blend of horror, comedy and sympathy. Hoult's voice over insists he isn't proud of his behavior and asks that we turn away.
Hoult protects Palmer from the other corpses and brings her back to the airport for safe keeping. It is here that they have an extended first date (he's a vinyl hoarder, affording us multiple poignant needle drops) and the spark of love slowly revives his dormant heart. (And thank God for that. Just when the gag of listening to him grunt gets tiresome, his “quickening” also brings back the power of speech.) In time, the notion of love will spread among the corpses, readying them to join forces with the live humans in the fight against the Boneys. That is if the stupid humans can see past their own prejudice, man!
Hoult's zombie (called “R” to Palmer's “Julie”) has brief flashes of normal life because of brain digestion and his revivification. Similarly, 'Warm Bodies' has the occasional sparkle of true originality in what is an otherwise rote young adult tale with shoehorned, bland action sequences. There is, indeed, commentary about intractable conflict and the mindset of total war. Is this 2013's teenage fantasy version of 'All Quiet on the Western Front?' No, of course not, this is an MTV-ready love story with beautiful kids running from crappy looking skeletons.
What 'Warm Bodies' succeeds at is some economically delineated world-building and not hammering you to death with overblown love platitudes. I'd be surprised if it becomes a viral breakout that dominates the entire planet, but contained within its zone of the YA demo it has bite with minimal slobber.
'Warm Bodies' opens in theaters on February 1.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.