The zombie genre has been one of the most prolific sub-genres in horror film-making in recent years. After the advent of mainstream walking dead in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead we’ve seen numerous interpretations of the standard narrative from road trip horrors like 28 Days Later¦ to romantic comedies like Shaun of the Dead via Zombieland. The key to a successful zombie film these days is to have an interesting central conceit. Warm Bodies directed by Jonathan Levine is pitched somewhere between Shaun of the Dead and Day of Dead and focuses on R (Nicholas Hoult) a zombie who narrates the story via internal monologue. He finds his daily routine of shuffling and wishing he could speak interrupted by the appearance of Julie (Teresa Palmer), a girl who manages to spark some life into his cold, dead heart after he inherits the memories of her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) by eating his brain.
While the idea of a film that is narrated by a zombie might seem far-fetched, it’s no more high concept than flying so quickly around the earth that time goes backwards (Superman) or characters singing every line of dialogue (Les Miserables). However films with such out-there concepts often live and die by their adherence to their own internal logic. With the exception of some mid-scene switching between shuffling and fast-moving zombie types, Warm Bodies sets out its stall and lives (and dies) by its own rules.
There are three distinct types of character: The humans, the zombies and the ˜Boneys,’ which are the well-imagined future of zombies that just give up and are reduced to a skeleton clung together with black flesh. It’s an interesting idea to have a stage beyond zombie, which proves useful as the enemy to all characters and allows the regular zombies to become slightly more ambiguous in their alignment.
Warm Bodies succeeds thanks in no small part to its cast, notably the excellent Nicholas Hoult. His dry wit becomes almost a parody of the navel-gazing teenager and provides the majority of the films laughs. If its possible he is believable as a zombie and he gives R surprising depth considering his consigned to grunting and moaning for large portions of the film. There’s also a nice supporting role for John Malkovich as Julie’s father in which he gets to shout a lot and generally be John Malkovich for our entertainment.
The pacing of the film seems slower in parts than you might expect, but this gives the characters room to breath and at just over 90 minutes in length knows not to outstay its welcome. The direction gives Warm Bodies a quirky, indy comedy feel and in one particular scene uses the classic The Evil Dead camera shot of zooming through the forest, although in this it’s done in a rather sweet fashion involving children. Overall this is one of the most pleasant surprises as it negotiates its high-concept origin thanks to a funny script, able direction and a great central performance. Warm Bodies really does bring an increasingly stale genre back to life.