'Warm Bodies' is an engaging and surprisingly enjoyable cross-genre action/horror/romance/comedy (perhaps a zom-rom-com?) between a most unique post-apocalyptic zombie who seeks love, attention, and closeness from one particular human female. It is, fundamentally, a film with the theme of societal redemption at its core.
In a very atypical approach for a supposed ‘zombie’ film, much of the movie (and its comedy) is driven by the fluid, internal narrative of the undead male we come to know as ‘R.’ R (Nicholas Hoult, now surprisingly grown up from ‘About a Boy’) opens the film by mentally musing about the lack of connectedness he has to other zombies, and his great desire to communicate with more than a grunt or nod to his ‘best [zombie] friend’ (Rob Corrdry). R spends much of every day in a blank-stare while slow-shuffle roaming a zombie-infested, abandoned airport. He regularly avoids the ‘bonies’ (Harryhausen-esque skeleton creatures who were once zombies but have given up all hope attached to their former fleshy coil, and who ravenously, impassionately, and aggressively devour anything with a heartbeat). R states that he will eat anything with a heartbeat, too, ‘...but, at least, [he’s] conflicted about it.’
Occasionally, R’s hunger for food becomes so great that he joins a slow gaggle of undead to hunt for humans who occasionally come out from their great walled fortress, seeking supplies. In one such hunt, R comes across Julie (Teresa Palmer), the human leader’s daughter, and is instantly smitten. In his limited communicative capacity, he immediately seeks to protect her from the other zombies, and as he repeatedly does so, he internally appears to be changing (allowing him an occasional heartbeat and a fairly sudden ability to communicate some of his heady ‘undead’ thoughts). Together, R and Julie avoid numerous zombies and bonies and form the beginnings of relationship, as Julie tries to return to the other humans through a maze of the undead.
Hoult does a tremendous job with his limited physical range as a member of the undead, and he emotes touchingly with just an eye squint or shoulder shrug. Further, R’s internal thoughts (voiced only to the audience) frequently hilariously detail his attempt to woo Julie as if he were an awkward teenager self-doubting his every move toward the opposite sex.
The primary foci of most zombie portrayals are the human survivors, and the traits that are squeezed out of them in their desperate effort to survive. But, ‘Warm Bodies’ flips the genre on its decrepit ear. In ‘Warm Bodies,’ the audience is most engaged with R, the undead walker himself, and his sometimes humorous quest to become more human (even if by unconventional means). R is on his own journey to be noticed, to dream, and to be loved. Furthermore, the specific reason behind the zombie apocalypse is unknown and unimportant in this film. Yet, it seems ‘Warm Bodies’ is implying that a modern world filled with constant opportunities to disconnect from real relationships and interactions with fellow humans (by virtue of computer use, cell phones, social media, and handheld video games) drove mass zombie conversion, at least, in part. Although somewhat self-motivated to satiate his loneliness, R’s attempt to seek a companion in Julie (to reach out to her and repeatedly help save her) becomes a ‘pay-it-forward’ return to both zombie and human culture with reverberations of potential deliverance for almost everyone.
In all, be aware that this is still a visual narrative about the undead, and some stereotypical PG-13-rated zombie activities will occur during its quick 97-minute running time. Nevertheless, in the vein of other odd-couple romances (‘Beauty and the Beast’), this is a zombie movie with a beating heart that speaks to the redemptive and contagious power of human connectedness.
‘Warm Bodies’ opens today, and is playing at theaters across San Antonio. It is rated ‘PG-13’ for zombie violence and some language.
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