Warm Bodies (2013)
Release Date: February 1st, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Jonathan Levine Actors: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, John Malkovich, Cory Hardrict
he premise of “Warm Bodies” is both its downfall and its ultimate success. Stuck in the restrictive boundaries of “the undead attempting to regain a connection with the living” only has a place in the far reaches of suspended disbelief provided it’s fused with consistent comedy. Fortunately, despite a setup that is almost too fast to be accepted, yet uneventful enough to drag for the impatient, the film results in evenly dispensed amusement and carefully balanced drama. It could have gone terribly, terribly wrong at so many points, but it managed to keep a level head about the production – nothing is too dark or too giddy.
“Why do I have to be so weird?” queries R (Nicholas Hoult), a highly unusual zombie who despite shuffling around a post-apocalyptic metropolis wasteland and snacking on live human flesh, takes moments out of his routine to ponder his existence. He ruminates on what his full name used to be, what professions his cohorts used to have, his bad posture, loneliness, slow movements, inability to effectively communicate with fellow automatons, his future and his past. Just as unexplained as the nation-sweeping phenomena that brought about the eight-year-long uprising of the undead is R’s capacity to narrate with such normalcy, but he does so to demonstrate a yearning for connecting with others and figuring out the meaning of life. The dwindling surviving human armies are quick to shoot the zombies, unaware that R represents a possible solution to the horrifying zombification condition. General Grigio (John Malkovich) leads the human fighters, but it’s his daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer) who accompanies a group of heavily armed, youthful scavengers out into the “dead zone” to forage for medical supplies – only to be ambushed by R and a gathering of hungry zombies.
It’s no mystery that the tale of a pale, blood-stained zombie living worlds apart from a rosy-cheeked young woman, each desperately striving to command their feelings for one another, is a take on Romeo and Juliet (several other names correlate with Shakespearean roles, plus a moment towards the end finds Julie perched on a balcony). Occasionally it’s not too subtle, but the constant teetering on the edge of ludicrousness and amenable reception concludes in surprising contentment. There’s nothing particularly sinister in the composition, and each of the actors contributes sensibility to an otherwise outlandish plot. Palmer is a warmer, more attractive version of “Twilight’s” Bella, quickly coming to terms with the supernatural element of R’s uncommon dexterity, while Hoult imparts a steadfast performance that doesn’t frequent the sense of absurdity and havoc that this story would wreak on fans of George A. Romero’s horror creations.
But “Warm Bodies” comes at a time when zombie infestations are still a novel idea, riding on the popularity of such efforts as “The Walking Dead” and “Zombieland” (with a sequel opening this year), as well as the upcoming reboot of the “Evil Dead” franchise (also this year). The transition from staggering masses of tattered sleepwalkers consuming bloodied corpses to a similarly hypnotized yet humanized brain-sucking teen nervously wooing a pouty-lipped blonde, takes some getting used to; but once the silliness is subdued the affecting romance is largely worthwhile. Is there a metaphor lurking under the light-hearted adventure and simply sweet relationship? The setting leaves little wiggle room for shocking revelations, justifiable fidgeting over inconsistencies in zombie behavior, or outcomes more intense than happily-ever-after, but the greatest accomplishment is merely to present a zombie movie shown from a zombie perspective (based on the book by Isaac Marion). That’s impressively unique.
– Mike Massie