Warm Bodies has a premise that redefines the word cockamamie. Here is a bizarre love story set in a landscape in which the living dead have taken over, leaving the surviving masses to huddle together behind a fortified wall only to find themselves bonding after the zombies begin to illicit feelings and memories. Yes, it is as lame as it sounds, but here is a movie that at least has some redeemable merits. This may be the first zombie picture in history that finds room for both the living dead and “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” It doesn’t have much but least it has that.
The story is based on a book by Isaac Marion who came up with the idea after his short story “I Am a Zombie Filled with Love” gathered a minor internet audience in 2010. Something about the finished product leaves you with the feeling that it was better off in a shorter form. Even at 90 minutes it kind of wears out its welcome.
The movie takes place in an unnamed city that is still smoldering eight years after the zombie apocalypse. The story takes place from the point of view of a teenage zombie (Nicholas Hoult) who doesn’t remember his name or any of his personal history. He’s one of thousands of lumbering dead who were bitten by fellow lumbering dead and became, well . . . lumbering dead. Early in the film he narrates his own inner monologue, a neat idea that unfortunately peters out early on. He explains some of the odd values and virtues of being a zombie and instructs us that there are two kinds of zombies: the regulars and “The Bonies”, a race of horribly decayed skeletonized deadites, zombies who have given up and simply ripped off their own rotted flesh and become feral. Their presence is fierce but their appearance is underwhelming due to the fact that they all look exactly alike. They are a product of computer animation, but they look like exact clones of one another.
Despite his gray pallor and blood-stained lips, the hero zombie (who is eventually given the underwhelming nickname of “R”) retains some of his former human value. He lives in an abandoned airplane fuselage where he displays his collection of pilfered objects and listens to vinyl records of John Waite and Bruce Springsteen. On his daily rounds with fellow deadites, R comes in contact with those still among the living. They have turned themselves into a militia and take pleasure in blowing their little zombie heads off. During one particularly fierce melee in an abandoned store, R locks eyes with pretty blonde Julie (Teresa Palmer). He rescues her and, naturally (or unnaturally) he falls in love with her. The bond between the very alive Julie and the living dead R makes for a love story that has to be taken at face value and is complicated by the fact that Julie’s dad (John Malkovich) is the leader of the surviving militia.
Something in R’s rotted little heart begins to melt in the presence of Julie and pretty soon he finds himself remembering how to love and showing signs of returning to some of his former human emotions. That, we can buy, but then other zombie begin to illicit the same feelings, and if you can buy the scene in which their zombie hearts begin to glow like E.T., then by all means, this is the movie for you.
The story is lame (to say the least) and there are few who would doubt that. This is not exactly a movie that is going to be beloved by your average “Walking Dead” crowd, but the movie has some sense of redemption. You can honestly say that at least you’ve never seen this plot before. And there is some merit in the production design by Martin Whist whose credits include Super 8, Cloverfield, and The Cabin in the Woods. He manages to create a cityscape that really does look as if it has been trashed and abandoned for nearly a decade. And the cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe is the perfect shade of cold gray; making everything look eternally overcast. Yet, while the production is well-made, it is at the service of a story that has you rolling your eyes. Yes, it is original but you find yourself resisting it almost from the start. C’mon, glowing zombie hearts? Really?!?