Quick: what are two things scarcely found in zombie fiction? Answer: hope and a cure. Yes, the very essence of the zombie genre is built upon the sense of impending and inevitable doom. It’s not always conveyed in the same manner, but be it The Walking Dead, Day of the Dead, and even more lighthearted fair like Zombie Land, and hope is scarce and a cure non-existent. This is where Warm Bodies differs from the doom and gloom that characterizes zombie lore.
Warm Bodies follows the exploits of R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie who actually ponders his terrible existence as a walking corpse. He is the narrator and also serves to call out the more obvious zombie genre tropes. These include the slow shuffling walk, the desire for brains, and the grunting. R observes his surroundings in the perspective of a zombie, another unseen occurrence in these movies. This makes sense, since zombies are supposed to be unfeeling monsters that are often used as metaphors for some human deficiency. But this movie serves to define and defy those trends and R not only thinks, he feels – the target of his feels being Julie (Teresa Palmer) a human. To make matters worse for R, she is the daughter of Grigio (John Malkovich), the hardnosed leader of the human survivors.
These two seemingly star crossed lovers meet while Julie and a group of clearly unqualified teens are out on a mission to acquire supplies for their settlement. I remember when I looked at the group, I knew most of them, except Julie and her friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton), would not live past the mission. My first hint came when pretty much none of them had any lines. My second hint came when Nora and Julie seem to be the only ones with survival instincts. Sure enough, they are attacked by R and his posse. The group is ravaged, but Julie manages to save Nora and looks like a total badass doing it. R is captivated and then shot in the chest by Perry (Dave Franco), Julie’s boyfriend. R does what any zombie does: he devours Perry and then lets the audience in on a little secret: R can either leave Perry’s brain intact and he will rise again or he could eat it and gain his memories. If you think that sounds farfetched, just remember that this is a zombie movie and not a scientific documentary on how the brain functions. After partaking in some delicious Perry brains, R turns his attention to Julie and this is where the not so subtle Romeo & Juliet overtones begin (R and Julie hint hint).
If you have seen the trailers for this movie, you probably have a good idea of what formula it will follow. Julie will be uneasy at first, R will be awkward, and in the end they will grow closer. It sounds like a generic teen romance until you remember that R is a zombie that should be trying to eat Julie, not get her to go out on a date. But that is where the charm lies in this film. While our hero and heroine get to know each other better, they go about doing so following the generic teen romance formula but make it fun because, well, zombies.
Also, I forgot to mention something. Zombies like R are called corpses but there are other zombies called bonies who will attack anything with a heartbeat. Towards the beginning of the film, R explains that bonies are born when a corpse loses all sense of humanity and rips its own rotten flesh off, a pleasant sight we are treated to. The bonies and corpses keep their distances. Seems like no problem since corpses don’t have heartbeats, but this is just another characteristic that this movie defies. R and Julie’s budding romance begins a change amongst the corpses starting with R who slowly starts to look and act more human. Yes, it’s the power of love doing all of this.
It all sounds ridiculous and cheesy; it sort of is, but Warm Bodies owns it all very well and does not even attempt to apologize for it. It is a teen romance but it plays with it; Julie is not Bella from Twilight, she holds her own against the zombies pretty well. R is not Edward, although they are both dead and very pale. In the end, I don’t have the overwhelming desire to punch R in the face. Even the rival love interest trope gets played when Perry is eaten at the beginning and Julie seems only slightly bothered.
Overall, Warm Bodies is a fun movie worth seeing. It follows a lot of the tropes of teen romances and zombie movies and then decides to own them while at the same time make fun of them. It is a nice change of pace from the normal zombie media and a welcome change from most teen romance stories. Is it cheesy? Yes. Does it matter? No, because I came out of that movie feeling pretty good, and sometimes that’s all a movie needs to do.