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We’ve seen these movie clichés before: either a romantic tale of “boy meets girl that come from different worlds or families in conflict with each other” or a dramatic story of “humans struggling for survival years after a zombie apocalypse” but we’ve never seen them mashed together. “Warm Bodies” takes these clichés and makes a very satisfying romantic-comedy-zombie-thriller that is full of heart and laughs. The movie takes an original story, performed by some endearing characters, and backs it up with artistic visuals and an impressive soundtrack. Warm Bodies also takes us back to what made “zombie” movies relevant in the first place: social commentary, but keeps it engaging and entertaining. Unfortunately, it also came out during the “Twilight” frenzy, and many probably dismissed it as a “girl meets zombie” twist to the “girl meets vampire” formula. Forget about Twilight, Warm Bodies is just really, really good.
Story: Set eight years after a zombie outbreak of unknown origins, the remaining humans have barricaded themselves into a safe portion of the city, and occasionally send out patrols to the infected areas to scavenge for supplies. These infected areas are occupied by “corpses”, the more common zombie-type undead people, and the “bonies”, the terrifying husks of former humans that even scare the corpses. When a human patrol is ambushed by corpses, a remarkably self-aware corpse rescues one of the human girls from the other corpses, and takes her back to his “home” inside a passenger plane near a corpse occupied airport. As the corpse and the girl grow closer to each other, the corpse’s heart literally starts beating again, which starts a chain reaction that will change him, the girl, and everyone around them.
Characterization: Part of the ingenuity of the movie is to tell the story from this corpse’s point of view, who is immediately likable and quietly hilarious. The corpse, who calls himself “R” (because he can’t remember his name, just that it started with an “R”) is played by Nicholas Hoult. Nicholas may be recognized for playing Hank/Beast in “X-Men: First Class” and for playing Jack in “Jack the Giant Slayer”. Nicholas expertly carries the movie with an impressive performance: his narration is spoken in normal English, but his interactions with other characters consists mostly of facial expressions and grunts. The fact that he is so endearing and relatable, in spite of his limited ability to speak, is quite remarkable. His love interest, Julie, played by Teresa Palmer, also demonstrates range and depth of her own. Julie happens to be the daughter of General Grigio, played by John Malkovich, the leader of the human survivors. She also happens to resent her father for becoming too cynical and despondent about their situation, and clings to the hope that the world might get better. The cast is rounded out by: Perry, Julie’s former (human) boyfriend, played by Dave Franco; Nora, Julie’s best friend that shares her optimism, played by Analeigh Tipton; and “M”, another corpse that you could call R’s best friend, played by Rob Cordry. I’ve seen Cordry in comedies before, but I was very impressed with his performance here. Like R, he makes the most out of expressions and grunts, and shows a range of ability I wouldn’t have given him credit for, before seeing this movie.
Visualization: Warm Bodies has a simple but effective message: by becoming heartless and uncaring of other people, we might as well already be in a zombie apocalypse – and the only “cure” is to get back in touch with our feelings and love for one another. This is supported by a consistent use of color, or rather, a steady increase of color, that symbolizes the growing love and warmth in the world. There is a scene, very early in the movie, that is a great example of this: R, while shuffling around in the corpse occupied airport, wonders to himself what the world must have been like before the outbreak. In the present, the scene is very grey and dreary. The decay and ruin is peeled back and the corpses “come to life” in R’s imagination, and the color returns to their faces. Poignantly, the corpse world and R’s imagined world actually look more or less the same, as people shamble around, not expressing care or love for one another. This variation is a fantastic visual theme carried through the movie, coinciding with R’s gradual transformation from a grey, decaying corpse, to a more vibrant, “normal” looking person. The only flaw in the visual department are some of the scenes depicting the bonies use unconvincing CGI and their odd movements that can be a little distracting. Other than that, Warm Bodies has a great, consistent art style that’s actually relevant to the story and helps support its themes.
Sound: Like the art style, the sound compliments the movie. The soundtrack can be playful and moody, menacing or funny, appropriately accompanying each scene. I appreciate a movie that uses its soundtrack in some of its humor, especially if the characters themselves are responsible for the music. For example, a scene might be backed up by a particular song, that happens to be so appropriate that its silly, which is funny already, but then we realize a character was actually playing that song on purpose, and that makes it that much funnier. The movie has several of these winks to the audience, which fits with the main character’s remarkable self awareness. Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders are credited for the soundtrack. Beltrami is well known for his great movie soundtracks, and his original pieces are well done here, as well. I think it’s fun to point out that he also did the soundtrack for other zombie movies, such as the original “Resident Evil” and the upcoming “World War Z” starring Brad Pitt.
Conclusion: Forget any pre-conceived notions of Warm Bodies being a typical romantic comedy movie mash-up or in any way comparable to the Twilight movies. Full of humor and heart, Warm Bodies presents an important message about our humanity. The original story is carried by some impressive performances, revealed with a fantastic art style, and backed up by playful soundtrack. Be sure to have plenty of tissues nearby, as it WILL pull on your heart strings.
Warm Bodies was released in theaters on February 1st and on video on June 4th, runs 98 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language. The movie is based on a novel written by Isaac Marion.