The best part of Warm Bodies comes at the very beginning as a “young” zombie (Nicholas Hoult), who will later be known as “R”, shuffles along his way, his internal monologue shared with us as voice-over narration. It’s quite clever, revealing what a zombie might really be thinking… if he had an active brain. In fact, Warm Bodies assumes that zombies do think; they just have trouble expressing themselves.
That’s a pill the movie asks you to swallow early, because it has a bigger one to take next. More important than believing zombies can think, Warm Bodies asks you to believe they can love. And it’s the spark of love that can actually restart a blackened, hardened heart. I used to be a sucker for such a romantic concept. Although I rarely get sentimental in movies these days, Warm Bodies almost gets me to buy it. Almost.
There are a couple of problems for me. First of all, in order to sympathize with those who are normally the bad guys, Warm Bodies gives us another level of zombie to be the true villain: the “bonies”. You won’t find any of them in the credits, though, because they’re purely CGI creations, and not very good ones at that. Creatures further down the zombie evolutionary scale, I didn’t find them particularly threatening.
Second, the “bonies” are obviously used as a plot device to get the surviving humans to unite with the mid-level “corpses” against a common enemy. It seems too manufactured for me. I can somehow accept a small, sweet love story between humans and zombies, but it’s too much to also shoehorn in the overall acceptance of a minority by a bigoted population.
Then again, there are plenty of movies that have done that. Assuming this may be the first one to do it with a largely undead cast, though, it seems like just a gimmick. Warm Bodies is best when it sticks to only the love story. Instantly smitten by Julie (Teresa Palmer), “R” saves her from an attack and whisks her away to his home aboard a grounded airplane. Scenes where she realizes “R” is different and begins to connect with him are honestly sweet and funny.
That’s largely the funniest it gets, though. Audiences expecting a Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland are going to be sorely disappointed. On the other hand, audiences expecting a Twilight with zombies instead of vampires and werewolves will be pleasantly surprised. Although Warm Bodies is also based on a young adult novel, it is so much better than that.
There’s one other conceit in Warm Bodies that I like. Without spoiling it here, I’ll say that it offers an explanation for why zombies love to eat brains. It’s as good a reason as any other, and it not only works here, it truly adds something to the story.
My feelings are apparently mixed, but I’ll lean toward recommending Warm Bodies. It’s not often that the most romantic Valentine’s Day movie in theaters can be categorized (although loosely) as horror. And it doesn’t star Ryan Reynolds, Reese Witherspoon or Sandra Bullock, so I say we all support it.