REVIEW: Warm Bodies [2013]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 98 minutes | Release Date: February 1st, 2013 (USA)
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Director(s): Jonathan Levine
Writer(s): Jonathan Levine / Isaac Marion (novel)

“God, we move slow”

Who would have thought even fifteen years ago that 2013’s nerd culture would have at its pinnacle zombies and bacon? Seriously, who? While we have Ron Swanson to thank for helping keep the latter alive recently, Hollywood has been the former’s driving force. What used to be a vehicle to disseminate political satire and civil unrest in a world slowly devolving towards a wasteland of mindless automatons has now become a million dollar moneymaking machine. They are so ubiquitous that I’m baffled none ever showed up in the Twilight series’ supernatural menagerie. Activision deemed it relevant to add some inside their Call of Duty franchise for target practice, so why would their inclusion anywhere else be surprising anymore? I guess the only shock is how long it took someone to flip the focus away from frightened humans and onto these misunderstood undead.

Author Isaac Marion is the one who did with his Romeo and Juliet homage Warm Bodies. Beginning as a short story entitled “I am a Zombie filled with love”, it’s absolutely no surprise the internet took a shine. These are the people who keep the love alive—an incalculable community of nerds, hipsters, and whomever else creating, buying, and wearing a slew of products that have propelled the walking dead into becoming pop culture royalty. This product was so hot that it only took one year from the full-length novel finding publishers to being put in front of the camera. That’s one year to discover the material, option it, write a screenplay, and acquire the studio money necessary to yell, “Action!” Like I said, zombies are one hot commodity and audiences can’t seem to get enough.

Like how Shaun of the Dead took the genre in a new direction with uproarious comedy and paved the way for other inspired works like Zombieland to do the classics proud, Warm Bodies has taken the mythology into unchartered territory. The question of what goes on inside the mind of a brain-eater is an amazingly simple concept with infinite possibilities; the brainstorm that maybe enough humanity existed to keep a steady stream of thoughts intact a brilliant starting point. What if those thoughts kept the zombies conflicted about their consumption of the living? What if some remnants of emotion got left behind and the capacity of love still existed? What if whatever convoluted and completely unimportant to the story process that infected the world could be reversed by nothing more than the warmth of one girl’s beauty?

I mean, why not? This is fiction. And it’s not like heartfelt necrophilia hasn’t already been made palatable via gypsy curses of souls and the sparkling androgyny of tween heartthrobs anyway. R (Nicholas Hoult) has every right to want more in his non-life than awkward staring, whispered grunts, and nummy brains. He didn’t ask to be different from those so far gone from humanity that they give up, rip their skin off, and walk the world as menacingly violent skeletons. He didn’t even have the capacity to dream and remember who or what he was before shuffling around his deserted airport until getting hungry enough to venture outside for food. No, the crippling paralysis that takes over his body at the sight of Julie (Teresa Palmer) was as much a surprise to him as us watching it unfold.

Written for the screen and directed by Jonathan Levine, Warm Bodies isn’t just some high concept romance targeted at young teenage girls with lustfully warped fantasies. There is a fantastic streak of comedy, a bunch of quality oneliners, an endearing commentary on society’s unflinching ability to numb itself into becoming unforgiving killers in the name of a “greater good”, and enough nods to old zombie tropes and invention of new ones to satisfy the most hardened of George Romero devotees. Without mocking the genre, the filmmakers have found a way to let it evolve into a new beast that allows compassion to become a weapon as much as decapitation. Like love—and eventual tragedy—found a way to erase the differences between the Montagues and Capulets, so too can it unite the living and the dead.

Yes, convenient character relationships exist wherein Julie’s father (John Malkovich) is optimally placed at the command of the resistance to hopefully instill change and her boyfriend (Dave Franco) is in the right place at the wrong time to be eaten by R so he may absorb the guy’s memories, but what film these days don’t fall prey to this? I can’t fault the story for streamlining its plot because in the end it’s better than some crazy spider web of connections for fanboys to greedily point out plotholes. Levine and Marion allow the superfluity of the world’s troubles to rectify themselves in the background while the sweet romance at its core evolves into a much-needed example of empathy. Whether the war ends or not, watching the spark of change is Warm Bodies‘ ultimate success.

Well, that and the laughs. Whether the slow burn beginning and middle or the revved up actiony end, the humor never disappears. Hoult is as perfect in voiceover as Jesse Eisenberg was in Zombieland and his mocking of his own kind is a welcome addition to the genre. I love the eating of brains as a way to know the victim’s life, the ability for Rob Corddry‘s distinct comedy to show through in just demeanor and grunts, and the use of vinyl records as communication from Bruce Springsteen‘s “Hungry Heart” to John Waite‘s “Missing You”. In that respect, actually, the soundtrack is college radio gold and a big help to engrossing the target audience while also possessing crossover appeal to go beyond co-eds with smart, witty dialogue and a refreshing take on a tried and true concept.

[1] NICHOLAS HOULT and TERESA PALMER star in WARM BODIES. Photo: Jonathan Wenk © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
[2] (L-R) NICHOLAS HOULT, ROB CORDDRY and TERESA PALMER star in WARM BODIES. Photo: Jonathan Wenk © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
[3] JOHN MALKOVICH stars in WARM BODIES. Photo: Jan Thijs © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

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