Warm Bodies (2013)
TWILIGHT. The books. The movies. The lunchboxes. The phenomenon. Like the bubonic plague, Stalin and Rob Schneider, they have a lot to answer for, and none of it is pretty. I remain gobsmacked that a dimwit like Stephanie Meyer, whose writing style suggests the squirrel working the controls in her head is a meth addict, could take her execrably bad tryst between an undead paedophile and his dullard underage receptacle, could influence so many. While there are undoubtedly some decent paranormal romances out there, TWILIGHT is like a drunken tattoo on an unignorable part of your body that constantly reminds you that maybe monsters should inspire fear, not desire.
When I first heard about the movie adaptation of Isaac Marion’s 2010 “zombie romance” Warm Bodies, I forced my cheeseburger back down my throat. The notion of human/vampire love was insane enough for me – you can love your dinner, but you can’t love your dinner – but the thought of human/zombie love gave me an attack of the cringes. We’re talking about dead, rotting flesh and a mind dominated by a reptilian urge to consume! I’ve had the dubious pleasure of watching a zombie-based porn movie called DAWNA OF THE DEAD (see my review here) and it was so bad that any children conceived while their parents were watching it will eat their way out of the womb.
Warm Bodies, however, promised a romance between a young girl and a young zombie. I haven’t read the book. But the movie screamed RUN WHILE YOU STILL CAN at me.
Then, days after it was released in UK cinemas, I read word that suggested it might not have been as bad as I first feared. And seeing as I had an afternoon free and the early tickets were cheaper, I went to see for myself, hoping I wasn’t surrounded by tweenies or mistaken for a pervert (at least, the wrong kind of pervert). Was my risk worthwhile?
We open on a post-apocalyptic scene, an airport busy… with the dead. One young dead, in particular, and in an internal monologue we are introduced to R (Nicholas Hoult, who played The Beast in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS). He shuffles about with his fellow revenants, talking about the collapse of human civilisation years ago and how he and his ‘friend’ M (Rob Corddry, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE) spend their days wandering about, looking to have a bite with the few remaining human survivors, and avoiding the ‘Bonies’: skeletal, purely feral creatures who remind me too much of those monstrosities from I AM LEGEND (including their computer-generated appearance). At night, R (so-called because his sparse memory could only recall the first letter of his name) spends his time in his ‘home’, an abandoned passenger jet where he has collected LP albums and knick-knacks.
Meanwhile, in a survivor’s fortress which reminded me of the human settlement in LAND OF THE DEAD, ruled by Colonel Grigio (John Malkovich, RED), a group of teenagers including Grigio’s daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer, THE GRUDGE 2) and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco, FRIGHT NIGHT) are sent on a mission to collect medicines, just as R and M and several other zombies converge, drawn by the scent of warm bodies. In the subsequent melee, Perry is killed, and R begins munching on his brains.
But when final survivor Julie is threatened by the others, R comes to her aid, leading her back to his plane, where his humanity, speech and intelligence appears to be returning. It seems that in eating Perry’s brains, R also obtains his memories of love and devotion to Julie – and is the closest thing he has to dreaming now – and gradually Julie learns to trust and even like him (though R hides the fact that he ate her boyfriend’s brains, which is probably a wise move), though she reluctantly returns to her father and the settlement. But the course of true undead love never did run smooth, and as R seeks out Julie, and other zombies begin regaining their humanity, the Bonies begin to see new sources of food among them…
Okay, and I can’t believe I’m gonna write this, but WARM BODIES… isn’t as shit as it could have been. Hang on while I check to see if my meds have been switched.
Nope. It wasn’t the worst movie I have seen. The look of the post-zombie apocalypse world by director Jonathan Levine (ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE) is detailed and convincing, as is the zombie makeup (though the zombie behaviour is inconsistent, with most doing the Romero Shuffle, others running, they at least try something new). The acting is fine enough, with Malkovich a solid actor able to easily sell the character, and the rest acquitting themselves with varying success. The movie deliberately alludes to Romeo and Juliet, down to the idea of young lovers between feuding ‘families’, the similar names among the characters, and there’s even a balcony scene! Zombie movies are traditionally examined for metaphors; here, it could simply be that love brings us to life.
There’s thankfully no actual sex (necrophilia won’t get you the coveted teen demographic), just an innocent kiss (though in one scene where they’re hiding out in a house and Julie undresses chastely to her underwear, her back to the camera, before going to bed while R sleeps on the floor, the impression is given that his blood is still flowing, if you know what I mean, and I bet you do). There are even some bits of dialogue and scenes which made me smile and chuckle, like when he has to teach her to act dead to get past his fellow zombies (“More groans… No, too much…”). There’s also some good chemistry between R and his buddy M, as M helps R find Julie again, and helps him avoid her zombie-hating father.
But at the same time, WARM BODIES bugged me on several levels. I hated the constant inner monologue from R, pure unnecessary exposition designed for an audience even more brain dead than the revenants on the screen. More could have been done with less dialogue, even no dialogue – ever see WALL-E? The first 45 minutes of it had no human speech, but still got its points across quite well.
Then there’s the lack of gore. The UK certificate is 12A, the US certificate PG-13. You’ll see more explicitness on THE WALKING DEAD. Hell, you’ll probably see more on SCOOBY DOO. There’s a nice shot at the start of a Boney peeling some skin off its face, but otherwise the blood and guts are minimal.
Which is fine, because it feels like these are zombies in name only. I want to applaud the author (and film maker) for trying something different, but really – zombies, whether they mumble like Bub or jabber like the ones in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, are still brain-damaged, feral, flesh-eating ghouls made of rotting (and presumably stinking) flesh. As the zombies in WARM BODIES return to ‘life’, we get quick flashes of their hearts beginning to beat again. Which is cute if you’re watching it happen to Bugs Bunny after he catches sight of a good-looking rabbit, but not in a zombie movie.
It’s obviously marketed for the pre-teen market, and scares are not really factored into it. That’s not to say there isn’t room for a movie like this. In a way it reminded me of the time I watched SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD. Everyone told me it would be great, but I was bored crapless by the repetitious fights and the central ‘crisis’ of a young douchebag having to choose between two hotties. My teenage daughter dug it, though, and that told me that it wasn’t made for me. I had become old. My life clock had started flashing red, and I was ready for Carousel. And if you get those references, congratulations, you’ll probably join me on it.
The trailer follows below:
Director: Jonathan Levine
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 3 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The D is silent. Like my farts.