With Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Rob Corddry, Analeigh Tipton. Written and directed by Jonathan Levine. Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language. 97 minutes.
We seem to be nearing the end of the wave of zombie movies. There may be some in the pipeline, but when a genre starts spoofing itself, it’s usually the end of the line. That doesn’t mean these comedic turns aren’t fun. “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” is a great horror comedy, but it does represent the last gasp of the Universal horror series that had defined the genre for two decades. “Analyze This” was a wonderfully goofy gangster comedy marking the end of the Mafia phase of the gangster genre.
While zombie movies have often been satiric (such as setting “Dawn of the Dead” in a shopping mall to skewer consumer culture), the best recent examples on the big screen were comedies like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland.” Now comes WARM BODIES, an entertaining cross-genre exercise that may be the first zom-rom-com, or zombie romantic comedy. It freshens up the tired zombie film and provides a much more satisfying romantic comedy than something like “The Silver Linings Playbook,” a movie that seems to have been made by zombies.
It’s the end of the world, and the struggling remnants of humanity are fighting on two fronts. There are the zombies, the usual shuffling dead bodies with a taste for living human flesh. Then there are the “Boneys.” These are skeletal zombies with similar tastes and even less connection to their past humanity. That proves to be key, because the twist here is that Boneys must be destroyed but R (Nicholas Hoult) is about to show that the zombies can be redeemed.
During an attack on a group of humans, R – he can’t remember anything of his past life except the first letter of his name – comes across Julie (Teresa Palmer) and she excites something in him. He doesn’t want to eat her brains. He wants to rescue her. For reasons not fully explained that love causes his heart to start beating again, slowly bringing him back to life. Her father (John Malkovich) is of the shoot first, ask questions later school of thought until the zombies join forces with the humans against the Boneys.
As a zombie story, this makes as much sense as any of them does, with the ongoing battle revealing something about the crumbling of civilization. As a romantic comedy, though, it’s actually fresh as R and Julie get past their initial differences – she’s alive, he isn’t – and connect. As a metaphor for human relations and the power of love it’s rather affecting.
Don’t let this deep dish thinking put you off. It’s a decent horror movie and has some good laughs, as when R is escorting Julie through a group of zombies and has to coach her how to play dead so they won’t rip her apart. Hoult is especially effective as R, providing ironic commentary without crossing the line into broad clowning.
With Valentine’s Day just a couple of weeks away, a good romantic movie for horror fans isn’t always easy to come by. This year “Warm Bodies” provides the means to have your sweetie’s heart and eat it too.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.