Warm Bodies is a strange film. It was billed as a ‘romzomcom’, and its various taglines suggested it would predominantly be a comedy in the vein of Zombieland. This was misleading –there is a comedy element, but it’s ultimately a generic teenage romance in a post apocalyptic setting. The comedic moments, from the relatively subtle scene in which R (Nicolas Hoult) and his ‘best friend’ M (Rob Corddry) grunt at each other in a well-pitched approximation of conversation to the precision F-bomb dropped by M a couple of hours later, are the icing on the cake. The film takes up most of its time developing the romance between R and Julie (Teresa Palmer) and, more interestingly, lightly satirising society and contemporary filmmaking.
Like Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies uses a zombie-infested world to hold a mirror to our own. ‘This is my best friend,’ says R as he introduces M to the audience, ‘and by best friend I mean we occasionally grunt and stare awkwardly at each other’. The ensuing scene is funny, but also highlights the uncomfortable conversations we find ourselves having most days, even with people we are friends with, as well as playing on the stereotypical inability of teenagers to talk to anyone. The idea of teenage awkwardness appears throughout: ‘Don’t be creepy, don’t be creepy’, R repeats before attempting a ‘conversation’ with Julie. The film also points at the disconnect between people’s lives and society as a whole, for instance when R tells us that ‘this is a typical day for me. I shuffle around, occasionally bumping into people, unable to apologise or say much of anything’ and we reflect that some people’s existences are unpleasantly close to this picture. These allusions aren’t particularly subtle – when R asks himself, ‘What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people?’, he might as well be paraphrasing My Chemical Romance – but subtlety isn’t the aim.Warm Bodies is more interesting when it pokes fun at cinematic clichés and tropes. The entire movie is very tongue-in-cheek, and some moments, such as M’s ‘fuck yes’ and the moment R and Julie kiss, work because they don’t take themselves seriously. The film overtly needles modern cinema in the scene after R has been shot by Julie’s jarhead father, when R reflects that ‘getting shot in the chest hurt a lot and all’ and shows an ironic awareness of the trend for characters to withstand more and more serious injuries without seeming to suffer any serious consequences (witness Denzel Washington’s bullet-absorbing rage in Man on Fire). Even the music in Warm Bodies could be said to be part of this gentle mockery: I was initially annoyed by the way that music is overused as an emotional stimulant – it’s played in pretty much every scene, and the cuts from one mood to another are often jarring – but this also works as a comment on the overuse of emotionally manipulative music in films generally, particularly as Warm Bodies doesn’t exactly go for the gut emotionally.
The film undoubtedly has large flaws: no amount of ironic self-deprecation can save it from Teresa Palmer’s wooden performance, or that Nora (Analeigh Tipton) only exists for one make-up scene, or the undeniable laziness of the worldbuilding (as an actual zombie film, Warm Bodies doesn’t work at all). In the end, though, these problems feel like sidenotes to a fun and enjoyable film – Palmer’s acting is made up for by Hoult’s fantastically delivered internal monologues, Nora doesn’t have enough screentime to be an issue, and it doesn’t matter that the zombie aspect is thin and unconvincing compared to, say, 28 Days Later, because that isn’t what the movie is trying to do.