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“Warm Bodies” review: A zombie story with heart… and a lot of brains

warm bodies

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Just when you thought the zombie genre had shambled off into the sunset bereft of any fresh ideas, a movie like “Warm Bodies” comes along and makes the undead seem, well… very much alive.

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”) and based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name, “Warm Bodies” unfolds in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse that has made humans the food of choice for hungry zombies and the savage, skeletal “bonies” that some of the undead turn into after a certain point in time. However, unlike the zombies portrayed in most media, some of the undead in this story still show signs of life, stringing together thoughts and even communicating with the occasional grunt or single-syllable word. “R” is one such zombie, and when he falls in love with a human girl that he saves from some of his fellow zombies, their relationship ignites a spark that not only changes him, but also has a cascading effect on both zombies and humans alike.

While it’s easy to dismiss the concept of “Warm Bodies” as just another young-adult supernatural romance that exchanges vampires and werewolves for flesh-hungry zombies, Levine’s film shares more in common with the modern, clever takes on the genre like “Shaun of the Dead” than it shares with the “Twilight” franchise.

British actor Nicholas Hoult (“X-Men: First Class”) carries much of the film on his slumped shoulders as R, complementing a smart, funny inner monologue with physical acting that just might make him the funniest zombie since Tarman in “Return of the Living Dead.” Emoting shouldn’t be easy when your character is a trudging, near-mindless corpse, but Hoult certainly makes it seem so, adding just the right inclination of an eyebrow or tilt of his chin to give R some genuine depth. The subtle exaggeration of these small movements as the story progresses makes R’s evolution even more believable, and provides a nice showcase for Hoult’s talents.

Playing opposite Hoult, Teresa Palmer (“I Am Number Four”) puts in a good, safe performance as Julie, the object of R’s affections and the daughter of General Grigio (John Malkovich), the leader of a nearby, militarized human sanctuary. Although her character never manages to steal the spotlight away from R, this says more about Hoult’s performance and the focus of the film than anything she brings to the role. The same goes for Malkovich, who plays more of a cameo than anything even remotely as memorable as the characters he’s played in the past.

Still, “Hot Tub Time Machine” actor Rob Corddry does manage to stand out as R’s zombie pal “M,” and the pair have a nice chemistry that translates into some of the film’s funniest moments. Like Hoult, Corddry does a lot with every scene he’s in, right down to the smallest twitch of a shoulder or well-timed grunt, and makes a strong case for M as the character most deserving of his own spin-off film.

In fact, that may be the most impressive achievement in Levine’s adaptation of Marion’s novel: the most interesting, compelling characters in the story are zombies.

Even with all of the story’s allusions to “Romeo & Juliet” (from star-crossed lovers R and Julie, to R’s best friend M serving as the Mercutio to R’s Romeo), “Warm Bodies” never feels like a traditional romance dressed up in a post-apocalyptic theme. The reverse feels more appropriate, with the costume of a classic romance disguising a very smart mash-up of horror and comedy that somehow manages to bridge the divide between two very different audiences and — maybe even more importantly — stand out in an increasingly overcrowded genre.

“Warm Bodies” hits theaters Friday, February 1.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…