Four out of five stars
Not every zombie is focused on eating your brain. Some want your heart instead.
“R” (Nicholas Hoult “X Men: First Class”), a zombie, saves a human girl Julie (Teresa Palmer “Take Me Home Tonight”) from being eaten during a zombie breakout. After taking her home with him, Julie’s initial fear subsides as R shatters her expectations of what a zombie is. During their time together an attraction grows, and R is confused when he starts changing back into a human. As R and Julie figure out what’s causing R to cure himself, they face off against Julie’s zombie-hating father (John Malkovich).
A supernatural romance between a human girl and a member of the undead who resists his urge to kill her that also has references to Romeo and Juliet sounds familiar. OK, so it’s “Twilight.” Summit Entertainment produced both films and seems to have learned its lesson. “Warm Bodies” is everything Twilight wasn’t: original and fantastically performed.
The PG-13 rating and focus on romance over gore may turn off zombie purists, but give “Warm Bodies” a chance. The film does provide new and quirky ideas to the zombie genre, but they’re genuinely clever ideas.
“Warm Bodies” defies the zombie stereotype of meandering bodies whose only goal is to find their next meal. The zombies’ brains are fully functioning, and extensive voice-overs convey R’s thoughts. The script gives R a personality and wit. He collects classic vinyl and other odds and ends to make his home, an abandoned airplane, somewhere you’d want to check out. When is the last time you’ve seen a zombie with a personality? The source of the zombie outbreak isn’t a cliché either, but is used instead as social commentary.
The film always reminds you that it is still a horror film, though. Most of these reminders come in the form of “bonies,” a skeletal, violent and vengeful group that all zombies eventually deteriorate into over time. Their appearance alone is one of the scarier CGI creatures seen so far this year in movies. Just when the film starts to put saccharine taste in your mouth from R and Julie’s romance, a bony will appear on screen and make you remember that there’s real suspense in the film.
The bulk of the film’s success is put on Hoult’s shoulders, and he performs beyond what you expect. Acting like a zombie is easy to do, but it’s just as easy to make it look contrived. His beginning inner monologue could be seen as annoying angst but Hoult manages to make R’s quest for something more in his life sincere. R is relatable and Hoult does the impossible, convincingly playing R as honest, sweet and considerate. As R transitions into a human you can’t help but smile as he wrestles with something as simple as trying to impress the girl he likes.
Palmer is the opposite of any “Twilight” heroine. She knows how to kill a zombie, and most importantly, she is intelligent. When R takes her home with him, she doesn’t just sit there and accepts her fate. Instead, she tries to escape multiple times. Despite her attraction to R, she never forgets R is a zombie who could eat her at any time, and she initially doesn’t pursue her feelings about him. Although Palmer has less to stretch herself as an actor, she is fun to watch, and her chemistry with Hoult is believable.
The supporting cast includes an underused John Malkovich in the stereotypical overprotective parent role. Analeigh Tipton (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”) and Rob Corddry (“The Daily Show”) provide humor as Julie’s friend Nora and R’s zombie best friend M, respectively.
At first glance, “Warm Bodies” appears trite, but after the first five minutes you instantly realize this is a film you should pay attention to. Although horror films’ have relied on a formula, “Warm Bodies” shows that a quirky deviation from the norm can work.
Contact Jenny Claire Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org.