It was only a matter of time really. With Zombies at an all-time high level of popularity thanks to the likes of The Walking Dead, and with ‘paranormal romance’ stories gaining more and more prominence, someone was going to end up making a film about a human-zombie love story.
It could be a scenario for a gruesome black comedy about someone indulging necrophile tendencies with a member of the undead, (see the recent Deadgirl for a nasty variant on that) but Warm Bodies is aiming strictly for a younger audience.
So a zombie apocalypse has taken place, as they do, and our zombie protagonist, R (Nicholas Hoult) spends his time wandering around an abandoned airport with his fellow undead. Though unable to speak, he provides a voiceover at first, in which he acknowledges his current zombie status and inability to remember his past life, while lamenting his current one. It’s a neat idea but after the opening the film doesn’t take it much further.
Craving human flesh, R is able to absorb human memories by consuming their brains (a very similar premise was used in the Vertigo comic series IZombie, though I do know who originated it first). One day he encounters a group of humans, including Julie and her boyfriend. After killing and consuming the boyfriend’s brain, he finds himself attracted to the now stranded Julie, and takes her away to protect her.
Now here is the big issue with Warm Bodies. It is entirely based around the notion that zombies are not mindless walking corpses, but in fact have the capability to become human again. This suggests that being dead is just some disease that can somehow be ‘cured’. I’m not a big zombie fan, and certainly don’t have any ‘purist’ concerns that their logic shouldn’t be altered, but this just didn’t work at all, especially seeing as the film makes it clear that they are ‘dead’. What’s worse, is how the film suggests they can get better – romance. No transplants, transfusions or electricity, just good old fashioned romance. Of course this also means that Julie must become attracted to R as well, even though he’s a personality-free walking corpse. Maybe the pale complexion and vacant eyes just do it for her?
The film tries to get around this by adding in another monster element, which it calls ‘Bonies’. These are essentially skeletal zombies that look like something out of an old first person shooter game, and prey on the zombies as they do on the humans. They basically exist in order to make the zombies not seem so bad, and to give them and the humans a common enemy.
Warm Bodies does have one thing going for it though, its soundtrack. The film gets in a lot of great music, both classic (Dylan, Springsteen) and recent (The National, Bon Iver, M83). It’s certainly more of a case of a director with good music taste showcasing songs rather than utilising them for effect, but still.
Warm Bodies has some ideas, but it seems they started off just with ‘zombie romance’ and tried to work out everything else from there, and create a world where its grisly scenario would not seem so repulsive. It’s reasonably well directed but is a zombie film for people who don’t really like zombies – gore is kept to an absolute minimum, and isn’t funny enough as a comedy. It only really works as a hollow teen romance.