It happens to the best of them. Dracula and the Wolfman become Edward and Jacob; Circe evolves into Sabrina. Eventually all supernatural creatures lose the qualities that most terrify us as they move from horror to comedy and romance, and from adults to teenagers.
Zombies, whose cinematic trajectory is much shorter than that of vampires, werewolves, and witches, have only recently entered this later developmental stage. Shaun of the Dead, George’s Intervention, and Juan of the Dead all play shambling brain-eaters for laughs, and the first two films blunt the most disturbing characteristic of zombies—their utter lack of humanity—by granting them the ability to think.
So it was perhaps inevitable that we’d get Warm Bodies, a twist on Romeo and Juliet directed by Jonathan Levine and based on a novel by Isaac Marion that shrinks the stage down to focus on modern-day, post-apocalyptic star-crossed lovers: zombie R and human Julie. It’s a “little” zombie film.
R (Nicholas Hoult) lives in an airport along with a sizable population of undead in various stages of decay, including a subspecies of skeletal, feral ghoul called “boneys”, who possess the antisocial tendencies of your typical zombie. When not hanging out with his best friend M (Rob Corddry), the hoodie-wearing R holes up in his slacker pad: a tricked-out jetliner complete with turntable and eclectic vinyl collection.
Julie (Teresa Palmer) inhabits a walled city, where she works as a weapons-savvy paramilitary for her father Grigio (John Malkovich), who oversees security operations for the community. The two kids first encounter one another in a scene that turns meeting cute upside down, when Julie’s foraging squad runs into R and company in a bloodbath that sees a number of casualties on both sides. The two lock eyes to the tune of John Waite’s 1984 monster hit “Missing You”, the first of a number of classic rock songs on the sound track that provide ironic counterpoint to the action.
R takes Julie back to his home on the tarmac, and proceeds to fall ever deeper in love with her, a process accompanied by his steady de-zombification. Scenes in which Julie and R both pass for a zombie and a human respectively follow, along with the expected encounter with a father who just doesn’t understand.
Despite its generic title suggesting interchangeable characters, Warm Bodies goes beyond the age-old origins of its romance plot to probe Boomer parenting, Millennial culture, and postmodern reinvention. Julie’s dad, who has a garage of military vehicles at his disposal, literally embodies the helicopter parent, while Julie’s reaction to the abject otherness of the zombie “lifestyle” renders the experience of negotiating the confusing terrain of teen social groups in all of its high-stakes drama. As the plot progresses, Julie achieves a model tolerance, while the severe transformation that R undergoes for love makes Jay Gatsby and Don Draper look like timid dabblers.
Although he can barely speak, R has refined his grounded-jet aesthetic to sample the analog detritus not just of the LP era but also of earlier epochs. Julie is a willing participant. She and R peruse his 3-D slide collection in vintage stereoscopes. She relishes the point-and-click Polaroid she finds in an abandoned home in which she and R have sought shelter, telling R “It’s important to preserve memories, you know”, as she snaps his portrait, “especially with the world on its way out”. Everyone in a post-apocalyptic environment becomes a bricoleur, but Levine and company’s use of the trope exposes it as a key feature of contemporary youth culture.
Warm Bodieshas something for every taste: enough gore despite its PG-13 rating for zombie fans, R and M’s “zombie bromance”—as it is called in the extra featurette on casting and character—to complement the main plot for members of team Jacob, and some nice moments of Kristin Stewart parody from Teresa Palmer for Twilight cynics.
Extra featurettes include segments on adapting the novel, production design and location shooting in Montreal (the team used the same abandoned airport where Terminal was filmed), weapons and stunts, boneys and visual effects, make-up, and zombie acting tips from Rob Corddry, plus excerpts from on-set footage shot by Teresa Palmer, a gag reel, and deleted scenes.
The Blu-ray is packaged with digital and ultraviolet copies of the film.