Review: Jonathan Levine's 'Warm Bodies' is Sweet, Funny & Excellent
by Jeremy Kirk
January 31, 2013
The flurry of zombie movies in the past decade have made it a cliched genre. There doesn't seem to be anything more to say about humanity surviving in the face of dead walking the earth with one thought, to eat us. Also to shuffle about aimlessly. Jonathan Levine, the filmmaker behind such gems as The Wackness and 50/50 seems to have tired of the typical zombie movie, too. He's written and directed Warm Bodies, a horror comedy from the perspective of the zombie and all the hilarity that ensues. Warm Bodies is funny, but it's also sweet, a bit dark at times, highly original and the first must-see film of 2013.
R, the zombie in question, is your typical walker, moving around without direction or purpose, mostly spending his days walking around the airport. He carries on grunt-loaded conversations with another zombie, M, and his internal monologue tells us that, inside, zombies knows what they are. They no longer have control of their actions, and R never attempts to justify his actions, particularly when he and a horde of the dead attack a group of humans. Among them is Julie, the daughter of a hardened general who just wants to live her life as she can in this death-filled world. R immediately falls for her and determines to make her fall for him, which might prove some difficulty considering, you know, humans and zombies all want to kill each other. Imagine the comedy, especially when R's new turn towards loving humans instead of eating them begins to change him.
With Warm Bodies, Jonathan Levine takes the novel by Isaac Marion and adapts it to a film that is as funny as it is genuinely heartwarming, no pun intended. After the attack, R takes Julie back to his safe haven, an abandoned airplane sitting on the tarmac and filled with various items R has collected in the eight years since the zombie outbreak, well, broke out. As with The Wackness, which Levine also wrote, the dialogue is smart but in the cutest way possible. The sincerity of his dialogue, even the single words R seems to push out of his dead body, keeps you interested in a developing relationship that's about as outside the box as you can get.
R is still a zombie, after all, and that attack his horde dropped on Julie and her friends wasn't without casualties. We've seen R attack a human, bite them in the arm, and keep their brains for a snack later - Also eating brains lets zombies remember our memories. That's kind of important. But even though Warm Bodies is a love story between woman and monster, the screenwriting and execution of every step delivers a charm that can't be denied.
Levine and Warm Bodies also deliver a healthy horror flick. Zombies aren't the only threat to humans in this post-apocalyptic world. There is another threat, bonies, which are essentially zombies that are beyond redemption, have pealed off all their skin, and brazenly attack any and all things with beating hearts. As R puts it, at least zombies are conflicted about eating humans. There's that charm again. As with Levine's unfortunately unreleased horror gem All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Warm Bodies has solid scares on more than a few occasions. Even though the bonies are fully CG creations, and obviously so, Levine shrouds them well enough in darkness that we only get quick flashes of glistening bone. It's effective, and also a nice way Warm Bodies stays PG-13 with all the blood that should be splattering around.
Just as effectively as he handles his dialogue and action, Levine's work with his actors is astounding as always. Nicholas Hoult shines in the lead role of R, and he finds a way to turn on the creepy just as quickly as he can turn on the comedy. And that's nothing to say about how fast he finds the charm in this undead character. Everything R is supposed to be, Hoult pulls off with remarkable results. It helps that he's aided by a strong supporting cast, Teresa Palmer strong and sweet as Julie and John Malkovich as her no-guts-no-glory father. Malkovich doesn't try to be funny, doesn't try to flip the Malkovich switch. That's funny in movies like RED, but his subdued and intimidating turn here is just as notable.
Warm Bodies is a great zombie movie, but it's also a genuinely warm and charming story of unconventional love. Telling the story from the zombie's point of view is such an inventive choice, but it's the sweetness and care Levine and everyone else involved in this film put in that makes it such a fantastic film. The Romeo and Juliet angle has been told a thousand times before. The zombie film has quickly lost its own mojo. However, leave it to a fine filmmaker such as Jonathan Levine to take both of those tropes and create something as fun, rewarding, and, yes, a little scary as Warm Bodies.
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10