A feel-good zombie movie seems a contradiction in terms, like a film student challenge. But if you keep an open mind, “Warm Bodies” doesn’t disappoint.
A zombie apocalypse has decimated the human population, driving them into a walled, militarized city for protection. The story is told from the point of view of a zombie who doesn’t even remember his own name, only that it starts with “R”. We first see R in the airport, shuffling mindlessly among his fellow zombies. Zombie interaction is mostly limited to bumping into each other, but R does have a friend of sorts. They don’t have much conversation; R says “H-hungry.” His friend replies, “Ciiity.”
R eats brains because “they’re the best part.” Eating fresh brains lets zombies experience the memories of the person they’re eating, in bright Instagram images, which lets them briefly feel a flicker of life. In eating the brain of a guy leading a foraging expedition, R learns the name of the love of his life, who at the time is trying to kill him: Julie. R saves Julie from the other zombies and takes her back to his pad, a plane at the airport he’s furnished with knick-knacks and a record player. There they begin the journey of bringing R, and the whole zombie race, back to life.
The role of R is beautifully played by Nicholas Hoult, who was the young Beast in “X-Men: First Class.” He has a great agog look - eyes wide, lips parted, head wobbling slightly - that perfectly captures the contradiction of being both an intelligent, sensitive young man and a walking, mindless, brain-eating corpse. The others do a decent job also, with Australian actress Teresa Palmer as a badass Julie, John Malkovich as Julie’s ruthless military dad, and Rob Corddry as R’s buddy, but it’s really R’s movie. When his smart, funny internal dialogue is replaced by hesitant speech, you really miss it.
Overall it’s a solid, fun movie. You do have to overlook some weird plot choices (how do the skeleton zombies form complex intentions?) and maybe it lays it on a little thick with the message that only human interaction can keep us spiritually alive, but it’s so earnest and sweet that it’s hard to mind. The audience liked it; people in the theater unironically said “awww” at key parts and clapped at the end. Worth seeing.