In a world where popular media has vampires sparkling and werewolves constantly shirtless, it is not hard to predict that one of the last monsters left, zombies, would soon be reinterpreted.
The film is sure to appeal to the teenage girl demographic and the charm of zombie protagonists, known simply as “R” (Nicholas Hoult), is sure to consume people’s hearts and minds; however, it is original enough to create something extremely appealing and memorable for everyone.
The movie, based on Isaac Marion’s debut novel “Warm Bodies,” flips our conventional ideas of zombies and uses the flesh eating monsters not for screams, but for witty satire. This results in a fantastically clever zombie romantic comedy where the true monsters are not the undead, but the apathetic, post-apocalyptic world that had forgotten the meaning of life.
Self-aware and sardonic zombie R wanders an abandoned airport filled with the undead, all separate from each other, only communicating with his best friend M (Rob Corddry) by a series of small grunts. Through his thoughts, heard in voice-over narration, we come to see the world of the undead through his humorous point of view.
R does not remember his past or who he was; his only clues are the clothes he wears, such as his tattered, red hoodie, which he suggests means he was unemployed. As a wandering, misunderstood zombie, Hoult’s simplistic facial expressions and very short dialogue captivates the audience, creating for instantaneous likability, which is key to the film’s success. He may crave human flesh but, as he frankly expresses, “At least I’m conflicted about it.”
One thing that zombies can definitely express to each other is “Hungry!” which spurs a group of the very slow undead to venture into the city and hunt down their prey. What ensues is a bloodbath between the undead and a group of young scavengers, one of which happens to be the lovely Julie, played by Teresa Palmer. It is in this moment that R falls in love at first sight, and his still heart suddenly beats.
This drives “R” to make a rash decision to save her, and ultimately expresses “keep … you … safe.” This leads to the ultimate battle between humans and zombies. What unfolds is a modern, undead retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo (R) and Juliet (Julie), involving Mercutio (M), the nurse (Nora, best friend of Julie) and Paris (Perry, Julie’s dead boyfriend).
Julie is inconveniently the daughter of General Grigio (John Malcovich), the leader of the survivors’ camp. The camp is set in Montreal, where a portion of the city they live in has literally been walled off from the rest of the dystopian world. While everyone else sees the zombies as undead, unfeeling monsters, Julie begins to recognize that they are so much more than that. The closer Julie and R become, the healthier his skin looks and the more proficient his language is. In disregard for the norms of all previous zombie movies, this one shows that zombies can learn to be human again.
In fact, the biggest threat to the humans is the Boneys who are zombies who have lost all their humanity and lose all their skin. R ironically narrates, “Aw, come on, don’t pick at it” when he sees a zombie transitioning into a Boney, as if it were picking at a scab or zit.
R’s evolution, when connected with another human being, suggests that apathy and a lack of connection between humans is the real culprit of society’s downfall, not the zombies themselves. A scene in which R reminisces about how exciting the airport must have once been, with its continuous flow of people from different walks of life, is ironically juxtaposed with what was (and is) more accurately the case of people occupied by their cell phones and bumping into one another.
Despite the film’s large lack of horror and action, it supplements this with great use of suspense, an adorable love story and stylish cinematography based on a pallet of red, blue and grey. R’s love of old records lends to a new interpretation and great usage of Bruce Springsteen’s classic hit “Hungry Heart,” while college favorites from artists such as M83 and Bon Iver are blended in to give the film some contemporary identity.
Summit Entertainment also produced the “Twilight” franchise, but “Warm Bodies” is anything but Twilight, contrary to what some might say. Director Jonathan Levine’s finished product should succeed in pleasing both fan bases. Rooted in astute observations, social commentary and pop culture references “Warm Bodies” is a feel-good movie that is impossible to resist and perfect for a date on Valentine’s Day.
Vincenza Parella can be reached at email@example.com.