Some casual browsing on Netflix led to a movie titled “Warm Bodies” , described as a horror comedy, featuring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer and John Malkovich. Surprisingly, this was a 2013 release and I had never heard of it before. The presence of well known actors egged me on to give it a shot, even though I didn’t expect much beyond the regular zombie fare.
“What am I doing with my life? I’m so pale. My posture is terrible. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead.”
The story starts off with “R” (Nicholas Hoult) – introduced as a highly introspective zombie. He has no memories of his past life, his family or friends, how he landed up at an airport, or even his name. Zombies don’t talk; then only grunt. And “rrrrr” is all he can come up with if he tries to speak – hence the default “name”. Narrated in the first person, R is part of an undead horde living at an airport, and has himself taken over an entire plane as his personal space. R considers himself an unusual zombie – he has thoughts but no memories of his former life. And when he feeds on humans, he doesn’t turn them into fellow zombies – preferring rather to consume their brains as well, which leaves them completely dead. In turn, he receives their memories on devouring their brains, an act he considers his only connection to being human – by feeling vicariously through the memories in the brains he consumes.
While scavenging for living humans to feed on one day, the undead face off with Julie (Teresa Palmer) and a group of humans searching for medical supplies to take back to the living. R kills a member from the party who was about to shoot him in the head, and on eating his brains realizes the man, Perry, is/was Julie’s boyfriend – memories of Perry and Julie come rushing into R as he eats. This causes him to share Perry’s feelings for Julie and in turn protect her from the other zombies. He promptly takes her along with him, sharing his airplane “home” and all the items he has scavenged – music records, books, canned food and beverages, showpieces. Julie is his only link to humanity, and R realizes he is getting warmer. Is there hope for a corpse to become alive again? This change also seems to be spreading among the local undead population like a virus – they start to remember and feel, and speak with some effort.
R and Julie have larger issues to face when their friendship is threatened from two opposing parties. Some of the zombies are too far gone – having been undead for a very long time their skin starts too shed, turning them into skeletons called “bonies” , and they are a threat to both other zombies and humans, devouring anything in sight. At the same time Julie’s father, General Grigio (John Malkovich), is the leader of an army of humans out to kill all zombies. The human-zombie duo is consequently caught in a crossfire – unless the humans can be convinced that the zombies are indeed getting warmer, and are not corpses anymore.
A unique take on the possibility of zombies turning into humans again, of the living and the undead sharing space and mutual understanding and acceptance. The story is fresh, fast paced, and an original delight. The movie can be described as a mix of genres with humor, horror, romance, sci-fi and drama all thrown in – and it never seems too chaotic. Nicholas Hoult is hilarious with an understated performance – he is stone faced as a zombie, but his thoughts and introspection reveal a lot of emotions, and his monologues are the highlight of the movie. The scenes of R pretending to be human, and Julie pretending to be a zombie – to blend in with each other’s coterie – are absolutely laugh-out-loud. All of the supporting actors do a tremendous job, including the actors playing the zombies – it is never over the top and the humor comes in at just the right places. The movie is funny without trying too hard, the romance doesn’t come across as clichéd, the popular actors don’t ham their way through (as often happens in these off-beat movies), the effects are well presented (especially the characters of the bonies). “Warm Bodies” definitely brings something original to the zombie genre and deserves to be watched.
From the credits, I also found out that the movie is based on a book by the same name. Isaac Marion’s novel came out in 2010 – described as a zombie romance alluding to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, hence the lead characters of R and Julie pulled apart from both sides by their people. I just downloaded the book on Kindle and will read it over the weekend. If one goes by routine experiences of movie adaptations from books, a movie this good would make the book an obvious must-read. Give the movie a watch too; it’s well worth the time.
My rating – 7/10
Some of the many creative movie posters I found: