There’s a scene about halfway through Warm Bodies where Julie (Teresa Palmer) fends off a pack of hungry zombies using a weed whacker. As you might imagine, it doesn’t do much more than keep them at arm’s length, so clearly it’s not the best choice for post-apocalypse self-defense. But that one moment also encapsulates everything that’s wrong with Warm Bodies. It brings a weed whacker to what should be a chainsaw fight.
Warm Bodies introduces us to R, a shambling zombie who spends his days wandering around an abandoned airport, collecting objects that catch his eye, and occasionally devouring a wayward, foolish human or two. During one particular brain-hunt with his friend M (Rob Corddry), R attacks a group of humans raiding a pharmacy. During the fight, R kills and eats the brain of Perry (Dave Franco), boyfriend of Julie. It’s explained that eating someone’s brain allows the undead to experience their memories, but this time it has a far stronger effect on R. Upon seeing Julie, he instantly becomes smitten with her, even saving her from his packmates and escorting back to his dive inside an empty airplane. The more time he spends with her, the more he recovers of his lost humanity, and Julie begins to suspect that they may have inadvertently discovered a cure for the zombie blues.
Let’s be blunt: the core idea of Warm Bodies basically comes down to “true love can overcome any obstacle.” You should know that going in, because your tolerance for the film will largely come down to whether you can swallow that premise or not. While Warm Bodies is thankfully not the outright Twilight ripoff many dismissed it as, it’s definitely more about twue wuv than the usual zombie-movie tropes. Thankfully, R and Julie aren’t nearly as dull as Bella and Edward, but neither are they much deeper than the plot requires. If you can unleash your inner teenage girl and invest yourself in the romance, you might enjoy Warm Bodies. If you can’t, however, this is one to skip.
Here’s where we come back to the aforementioned weed whacker. Warm Bodies commits the same cardinal sin as Twilight. It poses this star-crossed romance but then removes the situation of any of the horror that should be inherent in this kind of story. Everything is sanitized and safe. R and the zombies eat people, but it’s largely a bloodless affair. We see a world full of the undead, but based on their appearance you’d just assume they need some sun and have some varicose vein problems. We’re supposed to buy into what a big step it is for Julie to begin thinking of R as human, and eventually falling for him, but the movie doesn’t really make that challenging at all. R is the prettiest zombie you’ll ever see, constantly looking like he just stepped out of a photoshoot for ZQ. As depicted, R and Julie’s romance is basically no more challenging than a girl bringing a shy guy out of his shell. It ain’t as bad as sparkling vampires, but it is lacking any real sense of danger or stakes. It’s not Beauty & the Beast; it’s Beauty & the Slightly Less Beautiful.
It doesn’t help that the movie’s treatment of the zombies is wildly inconsistent. We’re introduced to R with him narrating his life, suggesting that the zombies still have all their mental faculties but are trapped in bodies they can’t control when it comes to eating humans. That’s pretty un-zombielike, but if that’s the movie’s premise, fine. But later on R outright says that zombies can’t think. Which is it? At one point R complains about how slow he and his fellow zombies are, but later we see them sprinting after their prey. Zombies are presented as clumsy and maladroit, yet both R and M can drive a vehicle when the plot calls for it. R’s newfound humanity is never outright explained, but it’s suggested that both Julie’s presence and eating her boyfriend’s brain are what help “cure” him. Yet later the cure somehow begins spreading to other zombies as well. Need I go on?
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that Warm Bodies largely lacks a sense of humor. Sure, R’s voiceover is occasionally wry, and there are moments that are played for laughs, but they’re few and far between, and even when they happen they mostly fall flat. That’s a shame, because it was the humor in the trailers that first gave me hope that Warm Bodies might be more than just a cheap grab for the Twilight crowd. Flicks such as Shawn of the Dead and Zombieland have shown how well humor can mix with horror when in the hands of the right writer or director, and a less earnest approach could have helped disguise the movie’s flaws. Sadly, Warm Bodies isn’t worthy to eat the little toe of either of those movies. Stick a shovel in this one, folks; it’s done.