“Warm Bodies” Movie Review

     "Warm Bodies" is an interesting mash up of your standard zombie film conventions with, believe it or not, Shakespeare and the result is surprisingly potent.  The film takes advantage of the recent success of "Zombieland" by inserting an element of comic banter throughout, while avoiding for the most part the horror and gore associated with the genre.  While zombies are normally characters with little to say for obvious reasons, "Warm Bodies" director and screenwriter Jonathan Levine ("50/50") instead injects an actual personality into his lead zombie character that for the first time actually gives us a hilarious glimpse into a zombie's thought process.  It turns out zombies are more in tune with their surroundings than we ever thought.

     It never crossed my mind the story was following the frame work of "Romeo and Juliet" until late in the film.  When "R" (Nicholas Hoult), a young teen zombie aimlessly walking around an airport with all the other zombies, meets "Julie" (Teresa Palmer) for the first time, R is in the midst of a feeding frenzy on Julie and her counterparts who are outside the boundaries of their portion of the city looking for medical supplies.  Julie's team is armed, but they're overcome and outnumbered by the zombie onslaught as most are killed.  Zombies can't sleep, dream, or think, but if they eat the brains of their victims, they are treated to that persons memories and R is currently feasting on Julie's boyfriend's brains when he decides to save her from the rest of the zombies and lead her to safety.  I suppose he had a weak moment.

     It would appear R has been exhibiting human like behaviors for quite sometime when we see his habitat aboard an airplane at the airport.  R brings Julie there and the two of them listen to classic albums and explore R's collection of trinkets, all the while Julie begins to develop a connection with R.  She realizes he is unlike the stereotypical zombie described by her father, Grigio (John Malkovich), and is actually kind and caring, desperate to fit in.  As their relationship develops, the audience is let in on the fact R's heart is beginning to once again beat and it seems this is occurring by way of his feelings for Julie.  His grunts and moans are now becoming intelligible words and his actions begin to have meaning.  When the two are eventually separated, R makes his way to the human part of the city at great risk and searches for Julie.  When he finds her, Levine stages his zombie/human version of the "Romeo and Juliet" balcony scene and that's where I realized where the film was going.

     I can't help but to think Levine is making a statement on modern society and the way we struggle to accept those who are different.  Perhaps zombies are merely a stand in for those who are stricken with disease or maybe those deemed as being in the minority.  If so, the point of "Warm Bodies" is to illustrate the need to get rid of the stereotypes that create those figurative walls between people in our world.  In the film, the human population lives in a portion of the city surrounded by giant walls designed to keep the zombies out.  By the end of the film, both humans and zombies are living together in harmony.  They even date each other!  Levine's script is filled with witty and creative dialogue that really sells his idea.  For the first 20 minutes, R simply narrates his day to day routine to hilarious comic effect.  When he comes to Julie's rescue, he communicates to her the necessary mannerisms to act like a zombie and blend in with the others in one of the best scenes in the film.

     The real villains in the film, known as "Bonies", also feast on the living and function in the story as those who refuse to change.  They are relentless in their pursuit of human extinction and serve as the biggest threat to the relationship between zombies and humans in the story.  If I had one complaint it would be the obvious CGI look of the Bonies and some of the sequences in which they attack in mass looked unrealistic.  At times, the film falls into some of the pitfalls of your typical teen genre films like "I Am Number 4" and "Twilight", mostly due to the casting of some less capable actors in smaller roles.  Hoult should be commended for his mostly physical role as R.  With such limited on screen dialogue, his performance has to sell the audience on the slow transformation he is experiencing.  Some of the initial scenes on the airplane with Julie are a bit overplayed, but the two more than make up for it in the third act when the relationship becomes more conventional.

     Levine scored with his last film, "50/50", and has come through with a credible effort here.  "Warm Bodies" has the daring to both change the expectations of a zombie film and at the same time makes a statement about social status within society.  The script is just smart enough to carry the film by injecting ideas you really don't expect to see and those ideas are acted capably on screen, a credit to Levine as both a writer and a director.  It's quite refreshing to see something this creative so early in the year.  GRADE: B