He Doesn't Love Her For Her Brains. And That's Good.

Alright, let's get this out of the way right here at the start; Warm Bodies is Romeo and Juliet with zombies. Her name is Julie. His name is R. They come from 'families' that hate each other to death (and beyond). He's got a buddy named M. She's got a confidante who wants to be a nurse. There's even a scene where she's looking down on him from a balcony.

So yeah, it's Romeo and Juliet with zombies. But that just tells us what it is; it doesn't tell us if it's any good.

Warm Bodies is about R, a somewhat disaffected hipster zombie. The movie begins with a voice over from R, which tells the viewer this is not the traditional zombie movie. R has thoughts and feelings, not especially deep or complex ones, but the fact that he has them at all puts him sharply at odds with the traditional depiction of the walking dead. It also makes his zombie nature a blatantly obvious metaphor for teenage alienation. But hey, they've been metaphors for worse in the past. He slouches around an airport, overrun by his fellows, until a scavenging party from the last human city in the area ventures out, drawing the zombies to them with the smell of their delicious living flesh. R meets Julie, and this is where Warm Bodies' zombies really break away from the traditional ones, as R is instantly smitten with her and decides, against his nature, to try and protect her from the others. And maybe even convince her to love him.

Warm Bodies is basically Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer's movie, in about equal measures. Of the two, Palmer has the easier job; just be a rather spunky young woman, with father issues, living in a dangerous time period. There's nothing groundbreaking in her performance. We've all seen this kind of character before. But she does a good, solid job of it, managing to differentiate Julie in the present from several distinct time periods seen through flashback, and selling a variety of emotions surrounding her time with R. She even handles the sort of ersatz-Liar Revealed moment from R nicely, not going over the top or underselling it. It's a good moment, and she performs it well.

As for Hoult, his role is much more demanding. His voice over work is excellent, with just the right touch of world weariness and hesitant romanticism. Actually playing a zombie that's reconnecting with his humanity, however, is a tall order. I don't want to say he doesn't give it his best work, and as often as not he does manage to convey some really nice subtleties with his performance. But there are times, and no small number of them, where he comes off as less 'zombie struggling heroically to reconnect with the last fading fragments of his humanity' and more 'guy who just does everything in a really, really slow fashion'. In fairness, I'm not actually sure how else you would play that kind of role.

The rest of the cast turn in decent performances. John Malkovich actually does a surprisingly nuanced job in the role of Julie's zombie-hating father. It would have been so easy for him to just be a one-note Evil Authority Figure, but he actually puts some heart into his character. Analeigh Tipton is good as Julie's friend Nora, though there's nothing there that really stands out. And like Malkovich, Rob Corddry puts a surprisingly deft touch on his character, R's friend M. M goes through something similar to R, but at a remove, and Corddry is up to the challenge. Yes, even without the voiceover narration.

Warm Bodies is a pleasant little romance, Romeo and Juliet with a nice conceit to freshen up the story. The only people I wouldn't recommend this to, aside from people who just hate fluffy pieces of pleasant but unchallenging cinema, are zombie purists. Because I really cannot stress how weird these zombies are, if all you're used to are early Romero or 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead. I thought Fido was a leap when I first saw it, but Warm Bodies leaves that film well behind as it sails out into uncharted territory. I'm not going to go into too much detail on them, because that would spoil some nice moments that really serve to carry this film out of just "eh, s'okay" territory, but suffice to say that these are not zombies in the conventional sense. R tells the viewer, in his opening narration, that nobody remembers what started the zombification; plague, radiation, hell being full, who knows? That gives the movie enough wiggle room to basically make them magical, rather than scientifically explainable, creatures. Which is fair enough, really, because other than magic what could possibly keep corpses upright and unrotted for years on end?

If you don't mind a slightly sentimental twist on zombies, rather than cold horror or brutal action, Warm Bodies is definitely worth a watch. But you wont miss out on anything if you wait for the dvd.

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