The tale of a zombie is nothing new. The resurgence of interest in zombie culture was catapulted by The Walking Dead, though Isaac Marion, author of the novel after which Warm Bodies is named, wrote the novel the same year that the aforementioned TV series came out. This sudden saturation of zombies isn’t surprising. After all, they have much in common with the modern human: Detached, unfeeling and largely uncertain of what’s motivating their actions. In any case, our hero, R (Nicholas Hoult, who may never look as handsome as he does in A Single Man)—who is called such because he can only remember that his original name started with an R—can’t help but internalize the sense of longing and emptiness he feels as he plods along day after day with his fellow zombies in an abandoned airport. He knows that something’s missing, but he can’t quite figure out what. All he can say for sure is that he feels like the only one who seems to want more.
Representative of the current climate we live in, Jonathan Levine (director of The Wackness and 50/50), who both wrote and directed the movie, paints a succinct portrait of alienation and anxiety. The U.S. is divided into factions of humans, zombies and “bonies” (more extreme versions of zombies)—I suppose in many ways, this could correspond to Democrats, Republicans and the Green Party, respectively. Julie Grigio (Teresa Palmer, who previously starred in the underrated Take Me Home Tonight) is the daughter of the only important human left in America, Colonel Grigio (John Malkovich), a trigger happy dictator-type whose lust for zombie blood is especially strong considering his wife died at the hands (or mouth) of one of them. Because Julie is all he has left of his wife, he is particularly protective of her–though he isn’t too worried about keeping her apart from her obsequious boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco, who lately seems to be trying to rack up as many film roles as his brother).
When Colonel Grigio asks Julie, Perry and their friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton, who may look familiar from her role in Crazy, Stupid, Love), to go to non-sequestered territory to get provisions (you know, medical supplies, Prozac, what have you), Perry readily and eagerly agrees, much to the chagrin of Julie. His constant desire to bow to the whims and demands of her father is what has lately caused a slight rift between Julie and Perry. In spite of this vague emotional distance, it doesn’t mean Julie wanted his unsuspecting brain to be eaten by R. Along with his zombie pack, including his best friend, M (Rob Corddry, who, for some reason, I only ever associate with Hot Tub Time Machine), R descends upon the abandoned hospital in pursuit of the human scent he can’t get out of his nostrils. And, although he knows what he is doing is wrong (a sentiment expressed through one of his many–but necessary–voiceovers), R can’t control himself. But the important element to consider is that he’s even aware of his wrongdoing.
One of the effects of eating brains, we quickly learn, is that you get to take on the memories of the person with said brain. And so, upon eating Perry’s, R instantly flashes to images of Julie, causing him to feel and think things he never thought a zombie was capable of. When the other zombies start to fiendishly follow the scent of Julie as she hides with Nora in the lab, R comes to her rescue by smearing some extremely disgusting, shit-like substance on her face (presumably blood or guts). Cloaking her in the zombie scent, he takes her back to their airport headquarters and hides her in the rundown 747 where he spends most of his time. As he realizes that he’s fallen in love with her, he convinces her that she must stay on the zombie compound for a few days to keep her safe. Although R has numerous accoutrements with which to entertain her (records he’s collected, an old BMW that they take for a high-speed drive, etc.), she quickly grows restless and insists on returning back to where she’s from.
Before R can guide her back himself, M and a group of other zombies snatch her while he’s sleeping (another ability that zombies aren’t supposed to have, but that R has miraculously developed). He manages to save her, but not before the bonies pursue both of them. Just when they think it might all be over, M ends up helping them escape–they even walk through a crowd of zombies after said zombies recognize and empathize with the visual of R and Julie holding hands as they make their way through the horde. While on the road, Julie must stop off at an abandoned house after the rain soaks her clothes as they drive a convertible through the inclement weather. It is at this house that R confesses to killing Perry. The next morning, R awakens to find that she’s gone. Cursing his foolish desire to be something more than what he is, R laments, “It’s better to feel nothing than to feel like this.”
Just when he feels like he might give up, M and a mass of zombies find him to tell him that the bonies are looking for both him and Julie. Sensing a paradigm shift in the way zombies act and, yes, feel, R realizes that it’s not really over between him and Julie–their forbidden love still has a chance. And, if you’re wondering why it all sounds a little familiar, it’s because Isaac Marion intended the characters (in background and name) to resemble Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet. Blending the core ideas of both fatalistic attraction and breaking the cycle of unquestioned conformity, Warm Bodies has quite a bit to say. In fact, it probably has more to say than most of the current movies out right now not based on a young adult fiction novel.