Monday, February 11, 2013

Warm Bodies

It's getting a little old, guys. The whole zombie thing; it's starting to lose steam. Sure The Walking Dead is addictive and one of my favorite shows on television right now. Yes, Zombieland is one of the best horror-comedies I've ever seen. Left 4 Dead? Hours of dismember-tainment. Left 4 Dead 2? Hours of dismember-tainment plus samurai swords and an inescapable hatred of anyone named Rochelle for the rest of your life. So yeah...the whole zombie thing is getting old...but, all the things it's given me so far make me happy, never mind? I guess?

Let's face it - the zombie "thing" has been going pretty strong for awhile and I feel like by now I should be sick of it. But there's a staying power to the concept of a horde of mindless undead because, frankly, if you've ever been to your local grocer you've already dealt with them: scores of slow-walking, blank-staring, obliviously-taking-up-the-entire-aisle-because-their-face-is-glued-to-their-phones-but-technically-not-undead. You deal with them on the highway (looking at you, Mr. "Blinker? Never Heard Of It!"), the mall, the movie theater; everywhere. So it should come as little surprise that the idea of a zombie apocalypse has caused its own little media-related zombie apocalypse.

And, predictably, that media-related zombie apocalypse has finally traversed another genre boundary: romance. In the post-Twilight era, I'm a little surprised it actually took this long for a movie like Warm Bodies to come along (Boy Eats Girl doesn't really count). The story needs very little introduction: it's boy (Nicholas Hoult) meets girl (Teresa Palmer). TWIST: Boy is a zombie. Everyone still with us? Cool.


The first thing I feel worth mentioning is how surprisingly good Warm Bodies actually is. It's not phenomenal, but it's pretty good considering the overall idea is conceptually thin. The movie scores points by being a loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, so the lit-geek in me enjoyed seeing how those parallels are spoofed or evolved; the balcony scene (yeah, there's a balcony scene) is a great example.

The performances are good, if not great, and herein lies the most notable part of the film that bends zombie mythology a bit. In the film, zombies can talk - though only in broken sentences. Warm Bodies kindly asks that you suspend disbelief here, which isn't too tough considering...ya know, zombies. It takes just a little getting used to, but the movie does a good job of exploiting the idea for comedic effect. Nicholas Hoult, who plays the lead zombie R, is the most relatable zombie you've ever seen onscreen. Again,  it's a little conceptually unfamiliar, but it works. Teresa Palmer's Julie is a nice romantic foil to Hoult; her kinda "rough around the edges" approach balances his undead-and-innocent characterization - though at times she did remind me a little bit of bad Kristen Stewart. "But! But!.." shouts Captain Contrary in your head, "...all Kristen Stewart is bad Kristen Stewart!" Friends of this blog know where I stand on this topic, and while you're opinion is perfectly valid, I urge you not to listen to Captain Contrary; he's what's wrong with the internet.

Moving on...

Rob Corddry plays M, a zombie-buddy of R who provides a good deal of the laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. Corddry isn't the most convincing zombie you've ever seen, but his place in the cast helps round out what might have been other wise luke-Warm Bodies.

Another major score for the film was the perfect balance of horror and comedy. Where other horror-comedies succeed with over-the-top gore (Zombieland, Slither), Warm Bodies is smart to keep the blood-n-guts - while present - largely toned down. The movie has a few moments of violence but for the most part wisely develops the romantic and comedic elements to a greater degree.


Part of the story involves a subplot regarding "bonies," which we come to find out are what zombies eventually become. They're the zombies of the zombie population and before the film's end are the primary antagonists of undead and human alike. On paper, this is a great addition to the film. In practice, it's some of the worst CGI you've seen in the past decade. The bonies' skin textures are woefully underdeveloped (subsurface scattering apparently wasn't high on the visual effects department's priority list) and they move in an almost stop-motion, herky-jerky type of way. No exaggeration, I've seen better animation in student films.

If zombies aren't your thing, you probably won't find much worth watching in Warm Bodies. Even at only an hour and a half, the movie feels almost overlong.


I'll admit I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Warm Bodies. I like my zombie-related media over-the-top and intense, so I didn't expect to like Warm Bodies all that much. And while it's not a revelatory experience - considering the limitations of its subject matter - it's modestly impressive. The comedy, while not laugh-a-minute, is steady and genuinely funny and the romance that develops between R and Julie is actually believable and accessible. I figured a zombie love story was just around the corner after the Twilight craze, and I just wanted to rip the bandaid off and get it over with. Warm Bodies isn't going on my list of favorites, but it's far from the wreck I expected it to be.

There are a small handful of "zombie movie rules" that have to be broken by the very nature of the story. So if you can get past zombies talking (to varying degrees) and the idea that the undead can be brought back to life - in a fully human way - you might find yourself enjoying this one.

Here's hoping it doesn't spawn a series of increasingly uninspired sequels generously referred to as a "saga."

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