The zombie apocalypse has left Earth in a decrepit state of existence. Humans have walled themselves in and the undead drag their feet around the outside. One such walking corpse serves as the protagonist of Jonathan Levine‘s Warm Bodies, a zombie rom-com (a zom-com if you will) from the director of 50/50, which Levine adapted from Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name.
The focus of this story is a zombie by the name of R (Nicholas Hoult). It’s R because he can’t remember his name, though he believes that’s what it started with. He tells us this in voice over (get used to that) while introducing us to what the world has become. He and his zombie cohorts sloth around a vacant airport where R lives in a 747, collects things and listens to records. You know, because they sound better… “More alive,” he tells us.
That’s sort of what this movie is. It’s an emo, cutesy… thing. It’s got it’s little zombie metaphor, comparing today’s smartphone obsessed, head bowed down nature to a world of dead-eyed walking corpses, but that’s only skin deep. For the most part it’s a love story about a zombie who doesn’t want to be a zombie, he wants to feel again and suddenly one girl allows him to do just that.
R’s world turns upside down when he comes across Julie (Teresa Palmer). A human from inside the wall, only he doesn’t want to eat her, he wants to be with her and he can feel himself changing by simply being around her. They listen to records, dance, drive cars and do whatever else a human and zombie might do in a movie montage until it comes time to decide what the future for this world may hold.
Levine sets all of this to an abundance of music including Guns ‘N Roses, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Roy Orbison and he makes no attempt to hide it in the background, instead pumping up the volume to the point it drowns everything else out. The absolute number of songs used, combined with the dependence on voice over so we know what R is thinking, is simply too much. There isn’t enough going on between each scene for this much non-essential material to be included. Where some films can be as subtle as a sledgehammer with their dialogue, Warm Bodies uses music.
In light of this, the film isn’t a total miss. It’s got some funny moments and Hoult is pretty great as is his zombie “best friend” M played by Rob Corddry who gets the film’s best line during its latter third. John Malkovich plays Julie’s over-protective, zombie-hating, war-mongering father and pretty much every decision he’s going to make in the film is decided from the moment you meet him. Despite the fact we’re talking about a zombie love story, you aren’t going to be surprised by much this film has to offer.
Warm Bodies is akin to a complete nine year run of a CW primetime soap, boiled down to 97 minutes, stripped of its angsty, faux drama and given a healthy soundtrack budget because even soap opera emotion is harder to create than emotion generated from songs we all recognize. It’s not that bad, but I could just as easily do without it.