What with Twilight leading the field in necrophiliac romance, Jonathan Levine’s (writer/director) zombie tale of a dead boy falling for his prey comes with a hard sell for the cynical – those who fear the undead going the way of the sparkly vampire.
Fortunately, Warm Bodies is so much more than that.
Adapted from Isaac Marion’s eponymous book, it tells the story of a young zombie, R (Nicholas Hoult), who is a bit more self-aware than the typical walking corpse. Indeed, from its opening voiceover, it appears that R is capable of thought, guilt and a yearning to be human – something that these zombies can briefly feel by reliving the memories of whoever’s brains they have eaten. He is still a slave to physical limitations and the basic instinct to eat humans, of course – he just doesn’t feel that particularly great about it.
It’s an interesting take. Zombies have always been rooted in humanity – functioning, at their best, as a mirror to the horrors of human desperation. Yet by going inside R’s head, it adds a whole other existential dimension to the mythology.
This is explored further when R eats the brains of Julie’s boyfriend, sending memories of love flooding through his mind and causing him to feel for the first time since death. Instead of eating her, he decides to keep her “saaaaafe.”
What follows is a Romeo and Juliet love story (the Capulets, in this case, being Julie’s zombie hating father, played by John Malkovich) that may suffer from a few too many soppy music montages, but is well-paced, sweet and brilliant fun – with the tone taking a clever, cheeky approach to the absurdity of the story whilst still managing to draw you in emotionally.
For as R’s heart begins to burn – if not beat – once again, it starts to spread to the others. For years zombie films have blurred the lines between human and zombie for satirical effect but rarely a relatable one. As R says himself at one particular low point: “it’s easier not to feel – then I wouldn’t have to feel like this.”