When I first heard the idea of a zombie romantic comedy I couldn’t have been more annoyed by the concept. The first time I saw the trailer, almost like the zombies in WARM BODIES my dead romantic comedy heart showed a few signs of life. Then once I finally realized that Jonathan Levine (50/50, THE WACKNESS and ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE) was directing I was a little thrown off- mostly because of how heartfelt and emotional his last film 50/50 was. Then I saw WARM BODIES and everything just kind of clicked. This isn’t a stitched together concoction of his previous films, but it has equal amounts of heart, humor and horror while being something new entirely.
WARM BODIES sets out to build its own mythology behind the zombies in order for the audience to buy the transformation later on in the film. Basically our main character, referred to only as R, runs into a group of young soldiers out on a medicine run. R is stunned for a moment by Julie (Teresa Palmer), before killing her boyfriend, consuming his brain and thus absorbing his memories- the majority of which revolve around the memories and feelings he had for Julie. R feels compelled to protect her and over the course of the film develop something of a forbidden romance in the same vein as Romeo and Juliet- something that’s a bit transparent in the dialogue, but also the names R and Julie. The burgeoning romance between them is changing something in R and making his body slowly come back to life and it begins to spread to the rest of the zombies. The only thing standing in the way of the miracle cure is Julie’s remorseless military father and the undead Bonies that dispatch anything with a heartbeat which includes the faint heartbeat growing in the hordes of zombies.
My first impression while watching the film was how slow it felt at the beginning, which bothered me less at the end as it serves to build the mythology and characters. There’s also a goofy sensibility to WARM BODIES that may hold it back from finding as wide an audience as I feel it deserves. People may be turned off by the indie romance aspects that came for something beat to death by the Hollywood machine and vice versa. There’s a little bit of everything on display in Levine’s film and that’s what I think is endearing about it- it injects something played out and boring with a little dose of what it needs to be relevant and enjoyable.
I wouldn’t say I found this laugh out loud funny through and through, but there are some extremely funny moments peppered in around a slew of quirky jokes that are at the very least hearty chuckles. The good thing about it not being side splitting comedy is that it allows for sweeter moments mixed in with some horror elements that create a film for several different audiences. Though the whole ‘love cures/conquers all’ theme may divide those audiences at different moments throughout.
One thing I loved throughout was the integration of a conflict with the Bonies (zombie skeletons)- the effects aren’t quite top notch, but the sounds they make and the threat they pose is very well done and provides the horror element that really connected me to the film when I was feeling a little too mushy about the romance. Make no mistake that this film’s sweet factor attempts to pour it on heavy so I found the more horror centric moments to be an extremely welcome cherry on top to keep it from being too one note. There are leaps the viewer will be asked to take in order to get to end point here, but they are leaps worth taking in the end.
Levine is a director that handles quirky comedy pretty well and it’s on full display in WARM BODIES. With the lack of gore and a real heart at the center of the film this is entertainment that aims to unite audiences with subtle and even vast differences in taste. The only real misstep of the film does lie within the opening half hour or so that as essential as it may be does tend to drag and a certain character transition right at the end that didn’t feel as organic as it could have been. Ignoring a couple of slight hiccups WARM BODIES is an early year release that I really hope to be able to give some love to towards the end of the year. It’s quirky and it’s goofy, but I genuinely feel like the message in the film is something we can all stand to let win us over.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)