Just Like Heaven is a fizzy confection, pleasant and enjoyed in one sitting. If you think about it too much, it goes a bit flat, like mineral water at room temperature.
It’s a weird comparison to draw to a zombie film, but that’s kind of how I see Warm Bodies: light and enjoyable, entertaining, but if you start to examine it too hard, you’ll probably see it come apart at the seams.
And yes, there may be something wrong with me for saying a movie with, you know, zombies and multiple character deaths is “light,” but honestly, there wasn’t enough connection to the characters that died for me to care too much about them biting it.
Our narrator is R, a zombie who spends his days mostly shuffling around an airport, locked in an existential crisis in his own mind. The most connection he has with other people—well, other zombies—is the occasional grunt and physically running into them. He wants more from life, but being dead has a way of complicating things.
And then one day, while out looking for food (read: people), R meets Julie. Admittedly, Julie is firing a gun at his head at the time, but R is instantly smitten.
Instead of eating her, R protects her, hiding her from the other zombies and, more importantly, the “bonies,” the zombies who are so far gone they’re nothing but skeletons seeking to devour anything with a heartbeat. And along the way, you find yourself rooting for those two crazy kids to make it.
Since R is a zombie, our introduction to this world comes via his voiceover. His humorous comments in the midst of his existential angst do a good job of setting up the tone of this movie: yes, there are zombies, but really they’re just people too, even if their conversations consist mostly of grunts. (Hearing a zombie tell himself “Don’t be creepy, don’t be creepy” as he’s approaching a girl has a special level of hilarious irony to it.)
It’s one of the few non-Bilbo voiceovers that doesn’t make me want to dig my nails into my ears, and I think it has a lot to do not just with the writing, but with Nicholas Hoult’s delivery. He does an excellent job as R, both as the shuffling, monosyllabic zombie and the much more articulate person R is on the inside.
I don’t know if zombies will replace vampires as a teenage girl’s paranormal romance of choice, but if more zombies looked like Hoult, I imagine more than a few girls would be considering it.
As you might have guessed, the zombies in this movie aren’t quite as disgusting as zombies have tended to be in the past. For the most part, the only difference between them and the humans is paler skin and blue lips, and their sunken, vacant eyes. The makeup department did a good job making them look zombie-like without actually having them rot.
This is also the first movie I’ve seen that has a reason zombies go for the brain: by eating the brain, they can absorb the memories of the person they’ve killed, and for a few minutes it makes them feel more alive. The memories R absorbs are so much more colorful than the real world, and I like the way they’re shown.
Rob Corddry is shockingly understated as R’s best friend, M, though he is also the character who gets the movie’s solitary F-bomb (of course he is). I probably liked him more here than I have in just about any other movie I’ve seen him in, and I kind of wish he’d been in it more.
Another highlight was the sometimes-deliberately inappropriate choice of music. Hell, the music selection was half the reason I cracked up throughout the film.
Because this is more of a romance than a straight-up zombie movie, while there are moments of menace, they’re comparatively few and far between. I was never too terribly worried about R and Julie, even when they’re running from the bonies. It’s surprisingly not-gory (then again, PG-13), which makes it a lot tamer than other zombie movies.
And because the movie is so short (just over an hour and a half), it feels like much of the story isn’t as fully realized as it could have been. Plus, certain aspects of the end of the movie made me kind of look at the screen and go, “Really? This is what you’re going with? Okay, I don’t buy it, but I’ll roll with it.”
Warm Bodies is based on the novel by Isaac Marion, which I haven’t read, so I can’t speak to the faithfulness of the adaptation. I can say, overall, it was an enjoyable movie that never took itself too seriously, worth the matinee price I paid to see it in the theater. While it would have been nice if it was a bit more substantial, not every movie wants to be. And that’s okay.