There are things as a fan of the horror genre that just stick with you. The first time you get to see Michael Meyers impale a dumb teenager on a large kitchen knife. The eyes of Bela Lugosi as he stares directly into the camera and into your soul in "Dracula". The slow shamble of Romero's allegorical version of the undead coming for that group of survivors in a shopping mall. Oddly enough I did not expect a movie like Warm Bodies to provide one of those moments for me. I was fully expecting to dislike this movie from the word "Go". Zombies can't love. DAMN YOU HOLLYWOOD. YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS INTO TWILIGHT YOU BASTARDS! I believe that was along the lines of what I exclaimed before I walked in.
We begin our little love story with a fellow named R. He is a zombie. He meanders around an airport for reasons he doesn't really remember. Actually there's not much he can recall other than his name began with an R. He likes to collect things, hoarding them all in one of the large jets that sits outside the airport terminal. He is best bros with another corpse, M (Rob Corddry in fine form here). Grunts are exchanged and even a word or two.
So, quite clearly, this plays with the lore of the shambling terrors we know and love. I'll admit that a large part of me immediately wanted to just shut down and HATE this movie. I already had to compromise GREATLY when 28 Days Later gave us "zombies" that ran fast. These can talk? Run and walk..coordinate? But then something else happened that caught me off-guard. All the tinkering with the mythos doesn't diminish the fact that there is an affability and well sweetness to all of this that is REALLY hard to resist.
We have our "meet-cute" not too far in thanks to a band of survivors scavenging for medical supplies and R and his boys bust in. Skulls are cracked, limbs devoured and R manages to get some delicious brains out of the deal. Apparently consuming the brain gives the diner access to the memories of said meal? We are shown these rather poignant flashes of the victim's life going as far back as when he was but a young boy siting on his Dad's shoulders. It was at this point that I just let go of my boiling hatred for what they changed and embraced what they did so very right.
Julie is one of those survivors and we have our moment of classic "Seeing her across the room and just falling head over heels" moment from R. The carnage going on around them gave the entire scene a very odd sensation to it. A good one, though. So, from there we have a typical story of a boy meeting girl except for the fact that the world is in ruins, the girl's Father happens to be in charge of the last remaining human settlement on the planet and there are also some über zombies referred to as "Bonies".
It is interesting how this romantic farce preaches such a simple message of love being something that can overcome pretty much anything while being set in this awful landscape. Levine (50/50) manages to coax a really winning performance out of Hoult as his progression from typical zombie to a warm body is a slow one and it works all the better for it. It is interesting to think that not that long ago we saw him as such as young lad in About A Boy and only last year did we see him all grown up in A Single Man. Here he is an undead dreamboat with a mind as sharp as a tack though lacking the faculties to say much of what he thinks out loud. It's an interesting turn to take the formerly awful thing of a zombie and transform into a great metaphor for adolescent love.
Palmer's turn as Julie feels a bit like Kristen Stewart as Bella but, you know, if she had some decent acting chops. Malkovich as General Grigio is restrained considering the absurdity of the material here. Corddry as R's buddy, M, does a fantastic job with part of zombie bro. The undead can do deadpan so well.
Levine who gave us the rather underrated All The Boys Love Mandy Lane and the critically acclaimed 50/50 works from his own adapted screenplay of Isaac Marion's short story-turned-novel of the same name and manages to deliver a tightly plotted if heavy-handed message about just how strong love can be. This will no doubt draw strong criticism for just being another "Twilight" with zombies and the feeling is understood yet what we got here was a film that you can actually like. We don't have a wooden leading lady nor a male lead who is only mediocre at best. The craziness of the mythos is all mixed in together with an upbeat sensibility to the burgeoning love story that is tempered by the fact that things are still quite grim 'round here, folks.
The message is a bit heavy handed and it repeats itself more than a few times throughout the film. The musical selection ranges from great classic rock to, well, some more alt-prog-synth stuff of the newer variety that is alright I suppose. The big bads, the "Bonies", are rather laughable CGI creations that just aren't very threatening. There are some stumbles here and there but the rest of the flick more than makes up for it.
There is a genuine heartbeat to this film that I found refreshing and really hard not to like. The Valentine's Day window gives us a lot of films that, for the most part, are not very good. We get the typical smattering of romantic comedies and the usual Nicholas Sparks adaptation along with other crud. This, however, manages to rise to the top of all that by providing a heartwarming if unorthodox look at a typical boy meets girl story. Let's forget the quiet and sometimes not so subtle references to the Bard in there as well. There's a lot of good things to be had here. Don't pass on it just because, well, it isn't your typical zombie film.