This past Friday marked the premiere of the latest zombie movie, Warm Bodies. Just when you thought you would be sick of another zombie/post-apocalyptic film, director Jonathon Levine manages to put a twist on it and putting it in the pantheon of classic zombie films such as Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later.
Every single movie that included zombies ever made had it from essentially one point of view: the remaining humans, desperate to live and always on the run. Levine flips the genre on its head this time around, giving you the story from the main point of view being R's, a zombie played by newcomer Nicholas Hoult. As he walks around he laments about his limitations in thinking, wishing he knew how to communicate more efficiently with the other mindless zombies while offering plenty of hilarious thoughts along the way. Another way he tries to make up for his lack of memories is by imagining what life used to be like. Bodies does not rehash the whole "how it happened" start, as by this point that is not relevant to how the movie progresses. While some felt that a movie like The Amazing Spiderman was hurt by the repetitive nature of re-telling a story that everyone knew, Bodies is better for not doing the same.
R's name is derived from only being able to get the "r" sound out when asked his name by Julie, played by the all-American-looking Teresa Palmer. R shows compassion for Julie in the beginning of the movie, saving her from a pending grizzly death via zombie eating frenzy. That evolves into a relationship with an interesting dynamic: a pale, scarred walking corpse who lacks the ability to communicate with a pretty, tan and athletic-looking blonde who can speak and think perfectly well.
We later find out through the mind of R that there are certain consequences in this movie. The first being that if you eat a dead humans brain, they die without a chance to be part of the living dead. The flip side of this, though, is that a zombie can experience that person's memories, something zombies are unable to do themselves. Another reality that the living dead face is the fact that they can never sleep. Sleeping is for humans who need rest to live. If you are dead, of course you don't need it.
I must give Hoult a lot of praise for his portrayal of R. I would imagine it took a lot of restraint to not just start talking normal out of habit instead of slow, inaudible grunts with the occasional word or two pieced together. He managed to use his body language, eye movements and limited speech to get his point across. Sometimes less can be more.
Along the way, Julie begins to become more attached to R like she never thought she would be able to. She sees his general innocence and begins to become sympathetic, wanting to understand how he thinks the way he does. This becomes problematic later in the movie as her dad, (played by the always awesome John Malkovich) is the leader of the surviving humans who live in a camp behind a large man made wall to separate them from the flesh eaters. The movie's plot progression and character development are excellent as they seem to happen very naturally and don't require a lot of thinking to get their point across.
Another strong point to Bodies is its sound track. Whether songs are used to reinforce irony (when Julie and her friend put make-up on R to the sound of "Pretty Woman") or just simply to engage the viewer (M-83's "Midnight City" while R takes his first shower in years), it helps make the movie seem all the more lively.
I came into this movie expecting to see a generally funny comedy that would entertain me. I left very surprised in how much this movie overachieved. It never dragged on (one hour and thirty-seven minutes), and every scene felt crucial to the evolution of the film and the genre as a whole. While Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later had uber-serious takes on a possible epidemic and others such as Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead were focused on comedy, Warm Bodies manages to balance both ends of the spectrum while changing the genre. I thought we were nearing the end of anything remotely original in zombie movies, but I was mistaken. Levine and his crew have carved their own niche in the living dead film market, and I'm all aboard. Go see this, it'll be well worth your time and money.
Final Verdict: A