Zombies and werewolves. They are real and ever present and not going away anytime soon, apparently, at least in the movie-plexed world. We may as well get used to them and learn to if not love then tolerate them and praise the good ones. To that end, enter the screen adaptation of Isaac Marion’s novel Warm Bodies, which definitely lands higher on the genre food chain, partly because it so deftly finds a working balance between satire and seriousness.
We get a sense of comic sending-up at the outset, as our ghoulish, ambling zombie protagonist “R” (Nicholas Hoult) waddles around an airport with fellow ex-alive comrades. “Why can’t I connect with people?” he asks himself. “Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead.” But in this film, the cheeky stuff intermingles with material from the apocalyptic sci-fi kitsch — a world torn asunder by a nasty plague, threatened by zombies, and worse — along with some of that old-fashioned young-love fairy dust.
Our zombie man R hooks up with the mortal Julie (Teresa Palmer), whose boyfriend he has eaten and inherited his dinner’s memories. It becomes a winking twist on the Romeo and Juliet theme, with lovers on either side of the mortal coil. At one point, he nearly states outright “sorry I ate your boyfriend,” which would have been a nice variation on Nerf Herder’s line “sorry I had sex with your sister.”
R protects her from the hungry dead as they hang out in an old airplane, listening to Springsteen and Dylan on vinyl, and the like, while the tensions on either side of the huge wall quarantining the dead from the nervous living mount. At various points in the movie, we’re hit upside our moviegoer’s cliché-detecting head by conflicting emotions, recognizing the absurdity of what’s going on while also getting pulled in by the filmic formula at hand. Genuine warm spots of romantic connection repeatedly pop up between our mortality-crossed lovers, in spite of the extremity of the premise.
Hollywood movie traditions are sneakily goosed, as when R is subjected to ye olde makeover montage to make him appear less, well, dead. (And yes, he cleans up real good.) The climactic battle scene is stocked with guns and ghoulish membrane munchies, but we pull back to realize that the parties involved are unscathed humans, dead people who are “getting better,” and those brutal “bonies,” a literal skeleton crew with no sense of fair play or Geneva Convention morality.
Suffice it to say, as far as zombie flicks go, this one is relatively full of life.