You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Warm Bodies

An inspired mashup of zombie heart and romantic-comedy brains, "Warm Bodies" offers a welcome twist on the living-dead canon, even if the decidedly femme-skewed results ignore pretty much every rule of the genre.

R - Nicholas Hoult
Julie - Teresa Palmer
Nora - Analeigh Tipton
M - Rob Corddry
Perry - Dave Franco
Grigio - John Malkovich
Kevin - Cory Hardrict

An inspired mashup of zombie heart and romantic-comedy brains, “Warm Bodies” offers a welcome twist on the living-dead canon, even if the decidedly femme-skewed results ignore pretty much every rule of the genre. Hoping to do for flesh-eaters what “The Twilight Saga” did for vampires, albeit on a smaller scale, writer-director Jonathan Levine spins Isaac Marion’s novel into a broadly appealing date movie about a zombified Romeo and his lively Juliet. As played by Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, the couple carries a love story with more laughs than scares, and should breathe fresh life into the Valentine’s Day frame.

Although most of the teenage target audience for this hot-blooded romance will be too young to remember, for decades, zombies were the bottom-feeders of the horror world. Now, thanks to AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and other popular reinterpretations, they seem to be all the rage, giving “Warm Bodies” a chance to evolve things further.

Marion’s concept revises classic zombie lore, in which an irreversible infection transforms carefree humans into cannibalistic corpses. Here, the change might not be permanent, although a contingent of well-armed survivors led by Gen. Grigio (John Malkovich in taskmaster mode) don’t know that, walling themselves off in a dilapidated city for protection from the slow-moving undead and their more aggressive counterparts, called Bonies.

But as Miracle Max might say, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead, and Hoult’s character — who calls himself “R,” since that’s all he can remember of his name — still has at least half a brain, as evidenced by his zingy, self-aware narration. On his new appetite for anything with a heartbeat, he shrugs, “At least I’m conflicted.”

Shuffling about an abandoned airport with pale skin, dark eye makeup and a grubby red hoodie, R could pass for a disaffected college dropout. Indeed, Marion’s novel suggests that apathy, rather than a virus, was responsible for the zombie outbreak, and the film charmingly embraces the idea that romance could be enough to shake people back to life.

One day, R, grunt-buddy M (Rob Corddry) and a group of hungry zombies venture out in search of food and stumble across a group of humans led by Julie (Palmer) and her half-psycho b.f., Perry (Dave Franco). When the two parties meet, a bloodbath ensues. In the process of killing Perry, R spies Julie blasting away his cohorts, and something in him stirs.

Smitten, R leads Julie back to his sanctum — an abandoned airplane where he collects trinkets from his various raids, including a record collection that fuels the amusing song-filled soundtrack, which asks auds to reinterpret old lyrics, giving new meaning to John Waite’s “Missing You” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” Channeling the awkwardness of young love, R struggles to express himself to his captive, while Julie comes to realize that maybe the humans have the wrong idea about the zombies, who are slowly coming back to life — in a good way.

Conveniently for R, Julie seems unfazed by Perry’s quite-permanent death, and as they hang out, his vocabulary relaxes to the point that they can communicate. It helps that by the film’s rules, ingesting brains allows zombies to absorb their victims’ memories, which affords R glimpses into happier, pre-apocalyptic times whenever he noshes on pieces of Perry.

Since the story sees no reason the two lovers should not be joined, the only challenge that remains is convincing humans and zombies to join forces against those nasty Bonies — badly rendered mo-cap skeletons that are not up to the pic’s otherwise impressive production values. Though the visual effects sometimes disappoint, the crew achieves scope via aerial photography and ideal Montreal locations.

The pic keeps the horror quotient in check while focusing on the femme-friendly comedy and romance angles, offsetting the plentiful moments of suspense with cutesy scenes like the one in which Julie’s best friend (Analeigh Tipton) gives R a human makeover. Even at the outset, R doesn’t appear too frightening, and the more time he spends around humans, the less dead he looks.

For purists, nearly every aspect of “Warm Bodies” defies the guidelines established by zombie godfather George A. Romero. If the walking dead always found it this easy to go vegan, the genre would fade away in a heartbeat, and yet “Warm Bodies” still embraces its rich allegorical potential to lighter effect, treating the last act, for instance, as a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”-like farce.

Popular on Variety

Warm Bodies

Production: A Summit Entertainment release and presentation of a Make Movies, Mandeville Pictures production. Produced by Bruna Papandrea, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman. Executive producers, Laurie Webb, Cori Shepherd Stern, Nicolas Stern. Directed, written by Jonathan Levine, based on the novel by Isaac Marion.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Javier Aguirresarobe; editor, Nancy Richardson; music, Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders; music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas; production designer, Martin Whist; supervising art director, Gilles Aird; art director, Jean Kazenmirchuk; set decorator, Suzanne Cloutier; costume designer, George L. Little; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Louis Marion; sound designer, Leslie Shatz; supervising sound editor, Martyn Zub; re-recording mixers, Chris David, Gabriel J. Serrano; special effects supervisor, Louis Craig; visual effects supervisor, Dan Schrecker; visual effects producer, Tom Ford; visual effects, Look Effects, Lola VFX; stunt coordinator, Dave McKeown; makeup special effects, Adrien Morot; assistant director, Michael J. Moore; second unit directors, Stephen Woolfenden, McKeown; second unit camera, Robert Mattigetz, Ken Seng; casting, Joanna Colbert, Richard Mento. Reviewed at the Landmark, Los Angeles, Jan. 15, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: R - Nicholas Hoult
Julie - Teresa Palmer
Nora - Analeigh Tipton
M - Rob Corddry
Perry - Dave Franco
Grigio - John Malkovich
Kevin - Cory Hardrict

More Film

  • Chinese director Jia Zhangke at the

    Iconic Chinese Auteur Jia Zhangke Touts Trio of Projects at Pingyao

    No one attending the Pingyao International Film Festival can escape learning about Jia Zhangke’s upcoming projects, with the same three trailers for them playing before each and every screening. The art house icon, turned businessman is ever-present in the historic town. First off, there is a new collaboration between Jia and Momo, a Chinese social [...]

  • Plans to Build New Film Studio

    Plans for New London Film Studio Run Into Difficulties

    Plans to build a major new film and TV studio complex in Dagenham in East London have run into difficulties. Be First, the local Barking and Dagenham Council’s regeneration company spearheading the project, says that Los Angeles-based developer Pacifica Ventures will no longer be involved in the project. Pacifica Ventures was selected last year as [...]

  • La Rouei

    Lumiere Festival to Premiere Epic Restoration of 'La Roue'

    LYON, France  —  This coming Saturday and Sunday, the Lumière Festival will turn back the clock nearly one hundred years as the festival premieres a new completed reconstruction of Abel Gance’s 1923 masterpiece “La Roue” (“The Wheel”) that restores the classic to its original 7.5 hour length. Consisting of a prologue and four movements, “La [...]

  • Lina Wertmuller portrait

    Lina Wertmuller’s Exceptional Career Revisited

    In the still American-led realm of the Academy Awards, it’s unusual for the helmer of a film not in the English language to score a Best Director nomination. It’s far rarer still, meanwhile, for a woman to be nominated in the category at all: just five have done so in 91 years. Only one director, [...]

  • Fifth Seal

    Lumière Festival Honors Hungary, Screens Classics ‘Women,’ ‘The Fifth Seal’

    For the fifth year running, Lyon’s Lumière Festival will honor Hungarian cinema and invite guests of the Hungarian National Film Fund to present two classic Hungarian films from important national filmmakers, Márta Mészáros’ “Ők ketten” (“Women”) and Zoltán Fábri’s “Fifth Seal.” Both films will be presented by Lumière Festival special guest Marina Vlady on Oct [...]

  • Godzilla

    Criterion Collection President Peter Becker on Storytelling, Bergman vs Godzilla, B-movies

    LYON, France  —  The Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) kicked off on Tuesday in Lyon, France, with a keynote address by Criterion Collection President Peter Becker. The exec discussed the company’s storied history and evolution over the decades into a leading publisher of classic and contemporary films from around the world in high-quality [...]

  • Manuel Chiche

    Boutique Distributor Manuel Chiche Offers A State of The Industry

    LYON, France  — Manuel Chiche is riding high. Since June, his boutique distribution outlet The Jokers set admission records with Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” selling nearly 1.7 million tickets in France and still going strong as the film heads into its 19th week in theaters. Indeed, “Parasite” is now the second most successful Palme d’Or winner of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content