I found out about the promotional preview screening of Warm Bodies just a day in advance, but I dropped everything to see it. I usually try to leave myself out of these articles, but I've been following the progress of this movie for a while, since I heard the premise is similar to the book I wrote about zombies, The Brain Ingredient. If I have a lot to say here, it's because I've given some of these concepts some serious thought.
So after waiting in the lobby of the Metreon for an hour, the theater tried to pull one last trick by cutting off the line right before I got in. Well, I wasn't going anywhere, and after a few more minutes, after the movie had already started, they magically found some seats for me and my friends. One of the studio promotional chicks led me up to the front row, all the way to the right -- bad angle to watch the movie, but good place to see the Q and A afterwards. More on that later. Luckily, it was still during the first few minutes that I'd already seen online.
The little kid from About a Boy stars as "R." He can only remember the first letter of his name, he tells us in the opening voice over, because he's a zombie. Good thing for the plot he's not lame like most zombies. He likes to collect things. He listens to records because music on vinyl is more "alive." He's the quirky indie boy who shrugs a lot, which is quick on its way to becoming a stock character -- but this time it's undead.
Then he meets the still living Julie, played by some blonde chick who looks kinda distractingly like the girl from Twilight. That was a strange choice, given that the supernatural romance aspect already brings up the comparison. After the screening, the director was careful to distance his movie from Twilight without alienating any of its fans. And actually, her first introduction while heading into a walled combat area alongside a group of other young people made her seem like Katniss from Hunger Games for a minute, but maybe that was just me.
The movie makes a difficult challenge for itself in presenting a main character who can't speak. Voiceover can only go so far, so it's lucky that eating the brain of Julie's boyfriend makes R more articulate... or is it her eyes? What he definitely gets from the brain is a download of her whole past relationship, convenient in getting to know her, and the movie sidesteps the creepiness of hitting on a girl using her dead boyfriend's memories.
Also, the human/zombie romance and absorbing a human's thoughts and memories by eating their brains are about all the similarities between the movie and my book, so I can finally relax about that.
Then there are the zombies that turn into somehow more evil zombies who look like skeletons. See, R is still a "good" zombie, so he can stop himself from eating the girl he has a crush on. Then he has to protect her from the other undead creatures. At no point does a shirtless werewolf show up.
There are laughs throughout, but Rob Corddry as R's best zombie pal steals every scene he's in. John Malkovich gives an almost restrained performance as the leader of what's left of humanity, and Dave Franco gets barely enough time as the boyfriend/snack to show that he looks almost but not quite like his older brother.
There are things that distracted me while watching the film. Sometimes the characters don't act like people with even half a brain, but it's okay, because a lot of them don't have any brains. A torrential downpour appears for one shot, soaks the characters, then disappears, leaving everything else dry. Plus, the quality of some of the CG effects reflect what I'm sure was a tight budget.
But those things aren't hard to overlook, because the movie is sweet. It tells a simple story and never takes itself too seriously or loses track of what it wants to do.
After the movie, the screenwriter/director Jonathan Levine came out with Dave Franco, whose quips about having only four minutes of screen time later revised the number to three, and second female lead Analeigh Tipton, who appeared from my floor seat to be at least 90% legs.
They talked about their reasons for doing the project, combat training, filming in Montreal and Romeo and Juliet comparisons. Levine mentioned Return of the Living Dead, one of the first intentional zombie comedies, and described the main character's inability to talk to the pretty girl as being an extreme version of the really shy guy trapped in his own body by nervousness.
There was a time when every zombie movie had to follow at least partially in the structure of Night of the Living Dead, but they've infected so many movies and stories at this point that zombies aren't as specific a genre anymore. The zombie apocalypse is a setting for all kinds of stories. There's no horror here, just a cute romantic comedy with its heart in the right place.
Warm Bodies comes out in theaters February 1st.