Warm Bodies (2013)
Directed by Jonathan Levine
The newest zombie flick to grace the big screen, Warm Bodies is an unexpected crowd-pleaser that definitely places heart over horror with All the Boys Love Mandy Lane helmer Jonathan Levine doing Isaac Marion's original source material great justice by successfully capturing both the intelligence and the charm of Marion's story.
Genre purists looking for a gory or visceral zombie flick may need to look elsewhere, but for the rest of you out there, Warm Bodies is what I like to call the antidote to Twilight- it's a genre romance with intelligence, a gifted cast and a confident director at the helm so don't let all that pre-teen marketing fool you. While Summit may be aiming for the younger demographics on this one, Warm Bodies is a movie even us "grown-ups" can still enjoy on various levels.
At the beginning of the film we're introduced to a self-aware zombie (via voiceover) named R (Nicholas Hoult), who feels trapped inside his own decomposing body, unable to communicate with the outside world except for his best friend and fellow zombie, M (Rob Corddry). But after he eats the brain of her boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), during a zombie attack, R falls in love with the still very much alive Julie (Teresa Palmer), which begins to trigger a series of reactions in R that proves there's a way to cure the undead left shambling about the post-apocalyptic world. And as they begin to fall in love, both Julie and R realize their relationship is only the start of something much bigger than they could have ever imagined and could very well impact the future of the human (and zombie) race as they know it.
While clearly an updated spin on the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet, to me Warm Bodies felt a bit more like Edward Scissorhands meets Zombieland meets Beauty and the Beast than anything since there really aren't warring families involved here (a driving force in Shakespeare's original tale); this was more about the awkwardness of young love, especially when one of those people just happens to be a zombie, and how love overlooks all those imperfections we generally can't get past (in this case, the dude you have a crush on has no pulse and his favorite snack just happens to be your ex-boyfriend's grey matter), which is something I think most of us can relate to on some level.
And while its core story may not necessarily be revolutionary by any means, what makes Warm Bodies so enjoyable is that we're finally getting a new spin on the very popular zombie sub-genre, which is something we haven't seen for some time. Sure, we've seen sexy or "romantic" spins on vampires and werewolves for a while now, but no one has really found a way to make a zombie romantically accessible, which is a huge part of why Warm Bodies succeeds- most of the film's wit and existentialism comes from R's inner monologues and the way he relates to both the zombies and the humans, providing us with a bleakly comedic look into the life of a zombie, which isn't something we genre fans get to see every day.
The look of Warm Bodies is wonderfully grim and heightened with cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe bringing the stellar production design of the film to life via a vibrantly muted palette of blues and greys that feels like a time capsule just waiting to be opened.
Hoult, who is about to take over Hollywood with this project and the upcoming Jack the Giant Slayer, plays R with a remarkable sincerity and nails his zombie performance to a "t." It's hard to explain how two guys grunting back and forth to each other share tremendous chemistry, but Hoult and Corddry (who steals the show) do just that, proving that it's still possible to make people laugh and keep them entertained without having actual dialogue to fall back on. Hoult's great in Warm Bodies, but Corddry once again proves here that he's undoubtedly one of the funniest and most gifted comedic actors working today; I would have loved to have had more of his character earlier on in the film (we lose him for most of the film's second act).
One thing that can be said about Warm Bodies is that much of the story falls into the "comfortably predictable" category most of the time, with a cutesy ending that might turn off a lot of the cynics out there. Thankfully, there are a few twists here and there with Levine keeping the character conflicts and plot complications engaging throughout the story, which isn't an easy feat when you're working with material that gets a little heavy-handed from time to time. Personally, I didn't mind seeing a movie with a happy ending since most horror flicks rarely promise a feel-good time (or feel-good by society's standards) so the saccharine-sweet ending wasn't the huge turn-off I was kind of expecting it to be.
Also, it delighted me to see that Levine was proudly wearing his horror-loving heart on his sleeve while making this project, inserting several homages to the genre world in Warm Bodies, which only elevated the humorous aspects of the film for this writer. After all, just how many theatrical movies reference Lucio Fulci these days? Not many (or not enough).
As a whole, Warm Bodies is a fun and charming affair, albeit a bit too safe and preachy at times. Perhaps had Levine and company dug a bit deeper and found something truly revolutionary to say here, the zom-rom-com would have become an instantaneous classic, but sadly, it just never quite commits to its own originality, relying a bit too much on conventional trappings of modern romance flicks throughout much of its third act.
That being said, Warm Bodies is still rather funny, charming and entertaining when it's not trying too hard to make its point; while by no means a horror film, Warm Bodies' new spin on some very familiar zombie tropes makes for a rather enjoyable time regardless of its shortcomings.
3 1/2 out of 5