It wouldn’t be unreasonable for a cynic to look at Warm Bodies and fear that it will ruin zombies the way the Twilight franchise ruined vampires. Like Twilight, it takes a creature that should be scary and feared and turns it into a lover, trapped in a teen-friendly romance that is sure to be endeared by young girls across the country. Luckily, Warm Bodies is nothing like Twilight. It’s funny, self-aware and all around charming. It occasionally devolves into cheese and hits a few narrative lulls that drag the overall product down, but this is a solid film that takes a concept that really shouldn’t work at all and makes it palatable to a wide reaching audience.
Eight years ago, something happened. What that something was is unclear, but it caused the dead to rise and hunger for human flesh. Now, the humans still left alive have retreated into a confined part of their city, protected by a humongous wall. Of course, resources within that space are finite, so teams must venture out occasionally to gather more necessities. One day, a group of young kids, including Julie, (Teresa Palmer), the daughter of the city’s leader, go out to do just that. Unexpectedly, they are ambushed by the dead. However, one of the zombies actually takes a liking to her, probably due to his prior consumption of her boyfriend’s brain, which causes him to gather his memories and feelings, and he ends up protecting her from the zombie horde. For some reason, when he’s around her, he feels different and actually becomes more humanlike. Nevertheless, he still speaks in grunts with only the occasional monosyllabic word and he can’t remember his name, so Julie starts calling him R (Nicholas Hoult).
The film begins in R’s head with an inner monologue. He’s dead and his brain doesn’t quite function properly, as one would expect from a zombie, but he’s aware of this (just one of many contradictions that deviates from zombie lore). He can’t feel physical pain anymore, but he feels loneliness and lost, sometimes literally given that he tends to wander around unfamiliar places. His desire to be alive, to feel and to love is something we all feel from time to time, especially when our lives become a monotonous loop we seemingly can’t get away from. Not many movies have a set-up and structure that enable them to explore such themes, or at least not in this way, which makes Warm Bodies a unique offering. He may be a zombie, but R is one of the most likable and, oddly enough, relatable characters to be on the screen in quite some time.
Its themes don’t stop and start there, however. Other themes include some we’ve already seen, like the idea of humans living like we’re dead (which was better explored in Shaun of the Dead), and some that are a little too obvious to really work, like desegregation and acceptance in a world of people that are different than you, but the fact that these themes are there at all just goes to show how thoughtful the movie is. It doesn’t desire to be the mopey tween romance it so easily could have become. It shoots much higher. Granted, its central message of “love is what makes us human” is inherently cheesy (and it singlehandedly killed 2008’s Hancock), but Warm Bodies handles it as delicately as a similarly themed movie possibly can. When the end rolls around, you won’t be wiping away tears, but you also won’t be rolling your eyes. In fact, you’re likely to find it kind of sweet.
Although a cliché saying at this point, Warm Bodies is greater than the sum of its parts. If each part was analyzed individually, it would be easy to point out their flaws (like those aforementioned memories that aren’t seen in first person as they should be, but rather in third person, the way they were shot), yet there’s a gentleness and warmness to the film, despite some blood splatter and organ eating, that can’t be overlooked. It poses no threat to the dominance of the more brutal zombies we know and love, instead creating its own little nook in zombie lore that reinvigorates the walking dead in a way few have done before. It’s not your typical romance, but it’s the movie to see this Valentine’s Day. Men and women alike will find something to cherish.
Warm Bodies receives 3.5/5