WARM BODIES. Starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Dave Franco, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, Cory Hardrict. Directed by Jonathan Levine. 97 minutes. Rated M (horror themes, violence and infrequent coarse language).
The title is better and deeper than might have first been supposed. So is the film.
This has to be the nicest zombie film you are likely to see and Nicholas Hoult as R (he can’t remember his alive name) is the decentest young corpse, even decentest young man you are to see in what is not quite a horror film, more of a hopeful monster film. Which means that as the film opens and we see the devastated city and the trudging corpses, as these zombies are referred to, we see it is a ‘Post-Apocalyptic’ film. By the end, it is a ‘Post Post-Apocalyptic’ film.
R offers a mournful voiceover about his lot, living dead who cannot remember his past, driven by a flesh-fuelled hunger which means that the Corpses are a menace to the surviving humans. R wanders, communicates oddly with his friend M, and joins a rampage in a clinic where the crowd of corpses attack the humans and R kills a young man, Perry (Dave Franco). In devouring his brain, he is able to relive the memories (which is done in flashback). At the clinic was Julie, but R did not kill her. Rather, he takes her to his plane hideout to keep her safe. Teresa Palmer is a strong heroine as Julie.
We are in Beauty and the Beast mythology here. Afraid, she comes to appreciate what R is doing for her and there is an initial fire of love in each of them. Which is important for R because it means that he speak more coherently, play records for Julie, feel for her and not menace her. When she returns home to the safety of the city and to her father, a gung-ho zombie hunter in the form of that sinister-voiced and deadly presence, John Malkovich.
R calls out to Julie who comes out on to her balcony – and there you are with the other mythology (but R doesn’t feel that he needs to take on the name, Romeo).
The film works, despite the odds (and Director Jonathan Levine did make a film called The Wackness!) because it has a lot of heart (and by the end so do a lot of the Corpses). And Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer are able to sustain this makebelieve story, better than the Twilight films. And there is comparatively little gore.
The theme of the film is heart and hope – and there is a particularly hopeful image at the end where the vast separating wall comes down. An allegory for some of the divisions and walls in society today.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out: April 11, 2013.