Jonathan Levine, writer-director of 50/50 and The Wackness, turns the zombie movie sub-genre on its head to successful, heartwarming and humorous results with Warm Bodies, an adaptation of Isaac Marion’s best-selling post-apocalyptic novel. In a world ravaged by an unknown plague that’s left most of the population as undead, brainless corpses, R (Nicholas Hoult) is a unique specimen: a zombie who maintains a peculiar sense of humanity. R’s new-found existence, which mostly includes pacing and grunting, is overturned when he meets survivor Julie (Teresa Palmer) – and consequently falls for her.
The immediate love R has for her, coupled with the memories he experiences through snacking on her dead boyfriend’s brains, brings about a change – a change that’s soon threatened by Julie’s merciless father (John Malkovich) and the advancing Boneys, a vicious zombie pack beyond redemption. The script is far from foolproof, but Warm Bodies is undoubtedly an inventive zombie rom-com, bolstered by Levine’s involvement and a voiceover narration that’s simply dripping with sarcasm.
The tongue-in-cheek tone is instituted from the very start, and Levine isn’t afraid to break a few genre rules to ensure that the film strikes a sturdy balance between a wide range of tones – a tricky, yet ultimately fruitful achievement. Its deliberate measured pace matches R’s slowly thawing heart and the blossoming bond between R and Julie well. This, in addition to the well-thought-out central performances delivered by both Hoult and Palmer (their chemistry, too, is surprisingly bright and sparky), adds a realistic and believable quality to Warm Bodies that immediately makes it unique.
Levine’s literal indie heart-warmer is an old-school coming-of-age romance set against a bleak, post-apocalyptic backdrop – and is all the better for it. More substantial issues, like how we as a species are becoming too reliant on technology and missing out on those tender moments of intimacy, is littered throughout Levine’s script, yet they never feel too forced. The humour, too, is spot-on, and there’s a handful of well-implemented literary (William Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo & Juliet, being the most prominent) and pop culture references for those on the look-out.
The supporting cast hold up their end, with Rob Corddry and Analeigh Tiptin as R and Julie’s friends respectively, in particular, proving their worth and delivering some of the films best laugh-out-loud lines. It’s buoyed further by impressive production design and an outstanding soundtrack that puts many pop classics to amusing use. Warm Bodies, then, is a smart amalgamation of genres that will charm your socks off.
This review was originally posted on CineVue.