With Shaun of the Dead (2004), you have a great movie that spoofs the zombie sub-genre of horror. It is that good because not only does it send up many of the classic tropes you expect from such movies, but there is also British wit and a plot. Zombieland (2009) is on the same level. In fact, outside of the original Night of the Living Dead (1968), I would take the other two over any other motion picture focused on the brain hungry corpses. Yet, there is another film, one that is played as a romantic comedy, that is also about zombies, and that is Warm Bodies (2013). Now, you may be wondering how you can have a love story in the midst of a post-apocalyptic world. Fair point. Read on to see how this does, in fact, work, even if it does rip off Shakespeare. Then again, what does not anymore?
The entirety of Warm Bodies is narrated by R (Nicholas Hoult). He is a zombie, and he roams around with a horde of other like fellows in the airport. There is another, more ravenous set of the undead, ones that have completely forgotten their humanity and are the true monsters, called bonies. R has not gotten to this point, and the other zombies are afraid of the bonies. He also cannot remember who he is, and he, like the others, shamble around the terminal. Some carry out in basic form the things that they did in life. R does have a friend, M (Rob Corddry), and they communicate mostly with grunts, though they can make a few basic words. One of the few they can form is “eat,” and soon they are joining the rest on the hunt for the title meal. On the other side of the city is the remaining human settlement, surrounded by high walls. A group of them are preparing to head outside of the protective barriers to look for supplies. Among them is Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her eager-to-prove-himself boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco). As fate would have it, R and his horde and Julie and her party meet inside a building with medical supplies in it. When R sees Julie, something about her awakens a long dead part of him. This happens almost at the same time as when Perry shoots him, causing R to go after and kill Perry. A taste of Perry’s brains reveals his memories (which is a thing is this movie, specifically), and they contain a lot about Julie. Seeing that Julie is in trouble, too, he makes his way to her and protects her, even after she puts a knife in his chest. Shrugging this off, R smears Julie with guts and he is able to smuggle her through the mass of animated corpses to his hideout on an abandoned airplane. At first, Julie is understandably terrified, but when she sees his environs, she begins to have a change of heart. Though a zombie, R collects music and other baubles that humanize him. R makes it known that they are safe there for the moment, and they begin to bond. He has also kept some of Perry’s brains, and in private moments he consumes more of the gray matter in order to get to know Julie further. If it is not clear by now, they are falling in love. This is cemented when Julie attempts to escape, but is saved from a zombie attack by R, who even gets M to back down. Later Julie and R are waylaid by a group of bonies, but are saved by M and the others, who have been touched by R’s actions. Julie and R head out, and stop at a house for the night. When it is time to sleep, R actually dreams, something that his kind typically do not do. Still, Julie decides to take the car they had commandeered and makes her way back to her home. R discovers this when he wakes up the next morning, but when he returns to the airport, M tells him that things are changing. This prompts R to make his way to the human settlement, sneaking in through a secret passage that he knows about from eating Perry’s brains. There is then a recreation of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet as R has arrived to tell her about what is going on as best as one can with his limitations. His timing could not be better as Julie’s father, Grigio (John Malkovich), the human leader, is gearing up to head out and kill the remaining zombies. With help from Julie’s friend Nora (Lio Tipton), they make R look a little more normal. They then all go to Grigio to try and convince him not to attack. They add that it is the bonies that are the real problem, and that the regular zombies are worth saving. Grigio will hear nothing of it, and in order to force his hand, Julie escapes with R. Together they find M and the others, and a fight breaks out between them and the bonies. When Grigio’s men show up, they are not sure who to shoot at, and instead opt to go after Julie and R. In the process, while also running from a few bonies, R is shot by Grigio. Julie stands in front of R, pointing to the blood pouring from his wound as evidence of the change they earlier referenced. This is enough to convince Grigio, and instead they all turn on the bonies. We wrap with a montage of the zombies being accepted into human society as they continue to change, the centerpiece of which being Julie and R as they try to figure out a new name for him.
By the end of Warm Bodies, if you know your Shakespeare, you are almost expecting R to decide to call himself Romeo. Luckily, that does not happen. You can also call the film unoriginal for being a zombie version of Romeo and Juliet, sans the dual suicide finale. If your analysis of the film stops at that point, then you do not have much going for the film. Yet, my Catholic sensibilities respond favorably to the way the zombies transform from being on the verge of losing their humanity to returning to the land of the living. I would submit to you that many people are turned into the undead by giving themselves over to aspects of popular culture. Whatever it is that people are into, there is a danger of it becoming a god to them. It does not feed their souls the way a relationship with God through faith can do. As we see R undergo his transformation, one of the things that keeps him going is his desire to feel. There are, of course, those who doubt the fact that God is the true source of all good feelings. To further this idea, think about some of the Catholic imagery regarding the heart. There are the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Additionally, it is the heart where, we are taught, Jesus resides. It also helps that the film has quick shots of those blood pumping muscles coming back to life. The movie does not present R’s heart as beating because he has found Jesus, but the principle is relatively the same. When you are in love with somebody, God breathes his life into you.
Warm Bodies is a sweet little movie, even if it does feature zombies. There are some genuinely funny moments as well. Because it has the horror elements, it could be scarry for some younger audiences. There is also a scene where Julie undresses with R in the room, but nothing but underwear is shown. R also behaves like a perfect gentleman (gentlezombie?). If you decide to check it out, you will be pleasantly surprised.