As you might have read, horror flicks aren't my thing - weighed down by canon and generally offering nothing of worth, characters in Possesion or Sinister merely exist long enough before succumbing to a death we've seen time and time before. The same goes with zombie films - I mean, how many different ways have we've seen a human perish under the grasp of a brain-eating corpse? But WARM BODIES is different, taking everything we know about the genre and turning it on its ear, delivering a refreshing and hilarious experience along the way.
At first, the life of zombie R (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men: First Class), seems pretty boring: he staggers around an abandoned airport, seemingly content to bump into other brain-eaters who assist him in hunting humans when the need to feed takes over. He can't remember his real name, nor anything else about his past, other than he might have been lazy and perhaps a perpetual flake. But something's different about this red-hooded teenager: he's aware of his predicament and constantly shares funny quips about it. Moreover, R is a Wall-E type hoarder, adding trinkets such as snow globes and classic albums to a commercial jet stuck on the tarmac. These aren't the qualities of a textbook zombie, but who's around to notice? Meanwhile, the surviving humans have walled themselves inside a dilapidated city, convinced that zombies and their more aggressive counterparts - called bonies - will never return to normal.
One day, R and his friend M (Rob Corddry, Childrens Hospital) shuffle outside to feed but meet up with a squad of human teenagers led by Julie (Theresa Palmer, The Sorcerer's Apprentice); the result is bloodbath that sees her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco, 21 Jump Street) killed by R, who immediately begins to consume his brain. In doing so, R takes on Perry's memories, allowing him to re-live a happier time before the apocalypse. It's here that his love affair with Julie begins. Yes, a zombie falls in love with a human. While hiding Julie in his plane, R begins to realize that his feelings for Julie are causing him to revert back to being human, which freaks Julie out but also causes her to re-think the human condition. Together, our couple tries to return Julie home while R continues his remarkable transformation back to humanity.
The pic keeps gross brain-eating to a minimum, only showing it only long enough to serve the larger love story. Writer/Director Jonathan Levine (50/50) weaves an impressively-funny tale, centering things around Palmer and Hoult and providing plenty of screen time for the audience to get to know these characters. Even Julie's gun-toting father General Grigio (John Malkovich, Con Air) comes alive in the few scenes he's in, reminding us why we like ourselves a little Malk in our movies. Music plays a big role in Warm Bodies, as R turns up the jams to serenade Julie, giving new meanings to John Waite's Missing You and Bruce Springsteen's Hungry Heart. These re-considerations are pleasant exercises for the audience, winning us over with its intelligent take on what's always been a decidedly darker genre. Bodies reminds me of 2012's Safety Not Guaranteed, another terrific indie film that blended the oft-used idea of time travel with the insane assumption that some people might actually consider the endeavor possible. Purist zombie lovers will abhor how easily Levine bends decades of canon, but it's all in good fun. In this case, putting the blinders on might go a long way to enjoying things, especially if you're dragged to the theater as part of a lost bet or other marital obligations.
Warm Bodies doesn't pretend to be a disgusting zombie film, and frankly we're OK with that. Instead, its Romeo & Juliet love story mixed with an independent comedic element screams black humor all the way. The result is a surprisingly entertaining flick that should bring the more delicate crowd to the theater to check out this excellent date-night fare. We may never see another January like this again, so enjoy the zombie love while you can. Warm Bodies is rated PG-13 for brain eating and has a runtime of 97 minutes.
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