A lot of moviegoers aren’t like that – if they’re going to spend $10 on a ticket, they want to be sure they’re not wasting money on something they’ll end up hating. That’s why we’re constantly subjected to trailers that spoil the best scenes, show viewers a Cliff Note’s version of the entire plot, or – in the most nefarious cases – end up selling a totally different film altogether.
“Warm Bodies,” the new horror/comedy/romance hybrid from writer-director Jonathan Levine, falls under the third category in a disheartening way. The horrid trailer provides legitimate grounds for anyone to write off the flick as a “Twilight” rip-off that substitutes zombies for vampires. Heck, that’s what I did the first time I saw it playing in front of (what else?) “Breaking Dawn – Part 2.”
Because Levine has proven himself to be a talented filmmaker (“50/50”) and I’ve been burned by trailers many times before, I decided not to judge the flick by its marketing materials. I’m glad I did. “Warm Bodies” is a creative, funny, and genuinely sweet tale of supernatural love that adds an interesting chapter to zombie mythology. It also delightfully skewers the “Twilight” series by pointing out the aspects of those films that were unintentionally disconcerting, and then showing how they could’ve worked in the hands of a better screenwriter.
In a warped spin on “Romeo and Juliet” (and loosely based on a young adult novel by Isaac Marion), Nicholas Hoult plays R, a zombie who immediately distinguishes himself from the hundreds of versions we’ve seen before. Through his witty and intelligent voiceover, R lets viewers know he’s still human in his thought process – he just can’t relay that message to his body or taste buds. If you’re a zombie in an apocalyptic wasteland, humans are every category on the food pyramid. Them’s the breaks.
While scavenging for a meal, R encounters a beautiful human survivor named Julie (Teresa Palmer) and somehow his brain manages to convince his stomach that she’s off-limits. After he protects her from the other zombies, Julie realizes there’s something different about R and they establish a curious symbiotic relationship – he keeps her from being lunch, she doesn’t shoot him in the head.
As they spend more time together, R begins to act increasingly more human. It’s a change that eventually spreads to other zombies as well. Somehow, R and those like him are getting better. Now if they can just explain that to Julie’s father (John Malkovich), the hardnosed leader of the human resistance.
One of the smartest things Levine does with “Warm Bodies” is address the “Twilight” similarities up front. Aside from the blonde hair, Palmer is a dead-ringer for Kristen Stewart; but she immediately establishes Julie as a strong-willed, independent young woman who’s not afraid to fight or tell her boyfriend (Dave Franco) when he’s acting like an idiot. R’s appearance is clearly designed to evoke Robert Pattinson’s mopey, controlling vampire, yet Hoult’s shrewd performance mocks the resemblance by constantly reminding us that zombies are supposed to be dead-eyed and wooden.
Hoult and Palmer have great chemistry, even before the romance kicks in, and they’re both funny, dynamic performers. The supporting cast is also terrific, particularly Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s best friend and Rob Corddry – who gets the film’s funniest line – as R’s zombie buddy. Franco is solid in his extended cameo, as is Malkovich in a fairly straightforward (for him, at least) concerned father role.
Levine further elevates the film with an enjoyable soundtrack, even if the choices seem a bit obvious in hindsight. Still, it’s tough to frown while watching a zombie thumb through his vinyl collection. Things start to run out of steam in the last act, but I was pleasantly surprised by the optimistic ending. You don’t see that too much in zombie flicks.
Please don’t let the “Twilight”-aping trailers keep you from giving “Warm Bodies” a chance. The film’s ads might be targeting that particular audience, but it’s the horror fans being turned off by the marketing who will probably appreciate Levine’s movie the most.
“Warm Bodies” is rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language.