‘Warm Bodies’ works around its slippery logic to produce a new spin on the zombie genre
Written by Jonathan Levine and Isaac Marion (novel)
Directed by Jonathan Levine
After countless number of horror movies in which men and women have been haunted by all sorts of monstrosities such as vampires, werewolves and creatures from black lagoons, it would seem as only natural that certain filmmakers would want to branch out into other genres all the while utilizing said classic creatures that are the stuff of nightmares. Not all monsters need be frightening, so to speak. One need only be reminded of the massively successful Twilight franchise, which was a love triangle story with heavy doses of lycans and nosferatu.Writer-director Jonathan Levine continues the trend of romantically inclined creature features with his latest film, Warm Bodies, only this time the vampires and werewolves are substituted for zombies.
The story begins by introducing the audience to one particular zombie (Nicholas Hoult) who roams an airport along with a legion of other unfortunate living-dead. Unlike what is typically the case with zombies, this one fellow, judging by the mere fact that he is narrating his plight to the viewer with quips and complaints, is to an extent capable of cognitive reasoning. Struggling with his fate, his world takes a dramatic turn the day he and his fellow hungry hunters stumbles upon a small party of humans, one of them being Julie (Teresa Palmer), daughter of the human resistance’s de facto leader (John Malkovich). Rather than eat her alive, he takes her back to his abandoned air plane to protect her. Soon enough, and against all odds, the two begin to form a bond…
Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies is an admirable attempt at trying to think a little outside the box, both in how it handles some of the more traditional zombie aspects known to many fans of the subgenre and it the way it tries to expand upon some of the commonly known aspects of the zombie life cycle. While it is true that some might find the picture’s marketing campaign somewhat dry and uninspired insofar as it emphasizes the love angle between a human girl and a zombie boy, which is obviously very reminiscent to the blueprint of the aforementioned Twilight films, director Levine handles that aspect rather adeptly. First and foremost, the movie does not remain content with with a story about the curious love between a human and a zombie, but genuinely tries to use that platform as a device to put a new spin on some old tropes. Without giving too much away, it is revealed that the protagonist’s attraction to Julie, an attraction he himself has trouble understanding at first, might be the first step in altering his living-dead biological makeup. Instead of it being a story about how humans are transformed into zombies, Warm Bodies tackles that notion the other way around: what might it take to see zombie revert to his or her normal original state. The answers in this movie are not necessarily the most original, but they work rather nicely and serve some emotional gravitas.
Warm Bodies also features two very good leads which help anchor the story and its emotional beats. It must be quite the challenge to play a zombie who must emote, yet never emote too much so as to not break character. In other words, genuinely be a character with some feelings while remaining true to what movie goers associate with zombies, namely that they have no personality. Nicholas Hoult pulls off the trick with skill, balancing a great number of disparate tones, some of which provide the crucial hints that something more humane lies behind those dead eyes of his (dead face, rather) yet nevertheless retaining some of the more lumbering qualities of his physical and mental state. ‘Charming’ is not the exact word to use under the circumstances, but suffice to say that the actor does what is required for the viewer to want to pull for him. His co-star, Teresa Palmer, although not faced with as steep a challenge, is up to par in playing the once strong, battle tested reconnaissance soldier who must now wrestle with not only her feelings but the notion that a stunning breakthrough in the war between zombies and humans is happening. Analeigh Tipton, who was excellent in last year’s Damsels in Distress plays Julie’s cocky, smooth talking friend, which is not the most challenging role, although Tipton is such a good actress that the audience can accept it anyhow. Comedian Robert Corddry is a welcomed presence and while he is not in the film very much nor is he provided with a bevy of comedic material, fans of his should enjoy the role. The odd man out is John Malkovich as Grigio. For an actor as accomplished as he, who has challenged himself with some remarkable roles throughout his career, the role of the over-protective father who refuses to buy into the notion that a cure for the undead exists is a letdown. One can rarely proclaim outright that Malkovich is simply bad in a movie, yet through his performance it almost feels like he himself realizes the material is beneath him.
There are some issues which plague the film, no pun intended. It is revealed early on that there exists another, post-zombie stage of a body’s deterioration, that being when a person is reduced to nothing but bones. An admittedly interesting concept, the movies makes use of this angle in the most pedestrian and nonsensical fashion. For one, these new monsters, aesthetically speaking, are very flat, not to mention that there is no explanation as to how, after losing muscle, they can run faster and demonstrate greater strength than humans or zombies. Their raison d’être in the final third is not only difficult to comprehend considering that they no longer have any brains, it is not exciting in the least. Then there are some questions and inconsistencies about where the cure for zombie infection might have originated from. For instance, how and why did it begin with the protagonist? Also, how is it that he can perfectly narrate his story to the audience, full with feelings and reactions to the world around him, yet is unable to act them out accordingly? Considering that he can think like a regular human being, what prevents him from behaving like one?
In essence, Warm Bodies is an enjoyable picture with some solid performances and compelling story elements that relate to the zombie mythos. That being said, it also requires that the audience not ask too many questions about the logic of how the world of the film operates. Thankfully however, the picture’s emotional tapestry overcomes most of the story’s structural issues.