Change in the zombie genre is not always a good thing. I can say this definitively, having just spent 384 pages of the 384-page novel Handling the Undead waiting in vain for a zombie to eat someone. But in the case of Warm Bodies, the change works.
Here we have a “smart” zombie, R (Nicholas Hoult), as the protagonist. R is capable of simple words and has a rich inner dialogue. He even has a sense of humor and, after he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer), the ability to fall in love.
I won’t lie, so far this sounds like a terrible premise. But the film stays smart enough—and funny enough—to keep your attention. In a parody of teen angst, R complains about everything from his poor posture to his inability to connect with people, and wistfully reminisces about the preapocalyptic world in which people really connected (this triggers a flashback to a scene where everyone is naval-gazing into their smartphones).
As the film progresses, R rediscovers love. His zombie buddy M (they like to hang out and grunt at each other) rediscovers his love of Cream of Wheat. And Julie does incredibly stupid things, like drive around in a convertible when she’s supposed to be lying low, light lanterns and set off flash cameras in a darkened home outside the safety of her walled city, all with a disappointing lack of consequences. The film’s downsides also include a rather lengthy section in which R and Julie get to know each other in R’s hideaway. R’s comment about zombie walking pace “God we move slow.” could certainly be applied here.
But overall, it works. We root for R, cheer for zombie love, and appreciate the nods to Romeo and Juliet. In the end, the biggest change isn’t that it’s a movie about smart zombies, but that it’s an uplifting zombie movie. And that might be the more important first.
by Jen Matteis