Warm Bodies is maybe the first feel-good zombie movie. It's based on a novel by Isaac Marion, and was written for the screen and directed by Jonathan Levine. When it comes to the very trendy sub-genre of dark romantic thrillers for teen audiences, Warm Bodies is several notches up the rung from Twilight. The plot is one you're familiar with: something apocalyptic has reduced a significant portion of the human race to mindless flesh-eaters, and the surviving humans have walled themselves in to try and stay uninfected. But when a group of adolescents is sent outside their little version of the Berlin Wall to try and procure supplies, one of them has an encounter with a zombie who's, not like all the others: the narrator, R, a zombie who can talk, and who, the more he is exposed to human life, seems to be changing from walking dead to walking...alive. And it's catching on with the other zombies. (Except for the "bonies," rotting skeletal creatures that resemble the Terminator near the end of that movie, who are so far gone that they're like the really bad zombies, the ones that cannot be changed.)
Warm Bodies offers some surprising sparks of philosophical thought. Can a zombie be regenerated, made alive again? Can there be good zombies and bad zombies? Should humans treat zombies with compassion or disgust? Can a human fall in love with a zombie? What's all this fuss about necrophilia? Or dating the guy who ate your boyfriend's brain?
That zombies serve a convenient function--they're symbols of us, of course!--is an obvious notion, and we might be tempted to give Warm Bodies perhaps more credit than it deserves for holding humans up to the light of social satire by making the zombies look more like us and vice versa. There were some well-aimed shots at our technological zombiefication, and our inability to connect with people. Warm Bodies is like the poster child for all the hipster-organic community cults out there today. (And I'm only half-criticizing them.)
Despite its philosophical underpinnings, Warm Bodies is a pretty simple love story with some horror imagery and apocalyptic themes thrown in for good measure. If this film had tried to tackle a lot of themes and plotlines, it wouldn't have worked. It would have been another monstrous franchise-initiator. Instead, it's an endearing little rom-com-horror flick, anchored by the two leads: Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer. With Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, Analeigh Tipton, and John Malkovich. 97 min. ★★★