“Horror-comedies” are usually not funny enough, not scary enough, or simply lacking in both departments. It’s hard enough to evoke either laughter or terror by themselves in a movie, but to blend the two and keep the balance right is an entirely different skillset and one that director Jonathan Levine deserves a heap of praise for. On top of that, he somehow brings credibility to what is a ludicrously daft love story.
The plot in one sentence:
R is a zombie who is unhappy with his shuffling existence and wants more from his life (or lack thereof), until he meets human Julie (get it? R and Julie! eh? eh?) and starts to remember what it means to be alive again…
The review in several paragraphs:
Zombie fatigue has set in. Not content with gracing B-movies for so many years, the undead have now escaped into every entertainment medium out there (except maybe reality TV, but I wouldn’t rule out zombie X Factor as a future possibility). The Shuffling Ones were once the domain of horror aficionados and those people who dress up for zombie marches every year. Now The Walking Dead is the most popular cable show in US history, classic literary texts are being retrofitted to include them, a new zombie video game seems to be released every week and even Brad Pitt is co-starring with them.
It would be easy to dismiss Warm Bodies as yet another lame attempt to scrape the last dredges of a new idea from a rotting well that ran dry quite a while ago. Luckily, there was something left in that well, because this is the most refreshing zombie movie I’ve seen in a while.
It’s easy to grow endeared to Nicholas Hoult’s R – from the initial introduction to his Wall-E-esque life to the sheer effort it takes him to get a few words past his zombie mouth, he’s the dead-heart of the movie and is responsible for almost all of the comedy and charm. Teresa Palmer (Julie) is dangerously uninteresting for the most part, but thankfully the two have just enough chemistry to pull off a very decent on-screen romance. Of the support cast, Dave Franco is given little to do, John Malkovich phones it in and Rob Corddry is the standout as R’s zombie best-friend.
Hats off to Levine for avoiding playing directly to the cash-pit that is the Twilight crowd. It would have been easy too, with star-crossed lovers and a pasty male heart-throb. Gladly, the movie has a playful sense of its own lunacy and never takes itself that seriously. There are genuine laughs and like Argo, the strength of Warm Bodies is its effortless switching between comedy and thrills (with occassional mild peril). Despite the ropey effects on the “skeleton” zombies, they serve as a scary enough batch of antagonists and their bizarrely Terminator-esque movements make for some decent chase scenes.
The movie has an alternative sensibility, similar to Levine’s last movie, 50/50. This is something that works quite well with the zombie genre, as Zombieland proved a few years ago. The direction is unobtrusive, with the dialogue, acting and excellent soundtrack leading the way. Beyond that, Levine proves he can handle action well enough and I can see him carving out a name for himself as a go-to director for versatile/weird hybrids like this.
There are parts of the concept that were confusing (why R can’t get a word out, but has incredibly eloquent voiceovers), and a lot of the rules about the zombies seemed a little lacking in explanation, but if you just go along with the stupidity of it all, there’s a lot to like about Warm Bodies. It even has a makeover scene to the backing track of Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman. What’s not to like?