Bullet to the Head; Warm Bodies; The ABCs of Death; A Year in Short Films
by Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade
EXPECTATIONS: The one and only trailer I ever saw for Warm Bodies was in a commercial break during an episode of The Walking Dead. That was three months ago. Zombies are pretty much a (walking) dead horse at this point, so I don't really have a problem with someone beating them with a rom-com stick.
REALITY: Warm Bodies is far from perfect. In fact, I'm hesitant to even call it good. Mashing together the 'romantic comedy' and 'zombie horror' genres results in a film that's often remarkably tone-deaf, but writer/director Jonathan Levine's fascination with the concept is so strong that there's never really a dull moment to be found. The final product is a film that knows when to take chances with its apocalyptic backdrop, and throws out whole chapters of the zombie rulebook for the sake of telling a unique story. Even though it doesn't always work, the risks this film takes are enough to make it stand out. Cinema needs more movies as ambitious as Warm Bodies.
The film opens in an airport lousy with zombies. It's been roughly ten years since the apocalypse, and it's here that we meet a zombie known only as R (Nicholas Hoult), who happens to be our narrator. R and his buddy M (Rob Corddry) decide to shamble into the city for some food, where they encounter a team of young human scavengers. After eating 21 Jump Street's Dave Franco, R meets Julie (Teresa Palmer), who sets his undead heart aflutter. R takes her back to his hideout, where a most improbable romance starts to form, and an even less likely zombie revolution begins.
Now that last part is key, because when the film isn't focusing on the budding relationship between R and Julie, it spends its time watching M and the other zombies slowly rediscover what it means to be human (not a metaphor, by the way). While the romantic angle is torn straight from the pages of Shakespeare's First Folio*, the zombie revolution begins to percolate on the sidelines, borrowing plot beats and visual cues from the likes of I, Robot and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A zombie roaring "EAT!" in R's face calls to mind Caesar's big scene in Apes, at which point we realize the game that this film is attempting to play. (Like I said earlier, it doesn't entirely work).
The romance takes a decidedly morbid turn as we see R slowly eating the brain of Julie's ex-boyfriend. After killing the guy, R saves his brain for later, telling us in narration that eating the brain allows a zombie to experience that person's memories. The film makes clever use of this device, allowing us to see flashbacks of Julie's life before the zombie outbreak. "But that's super creepy," you sensitive types might be saying. "He's getting closer to a girl by studying her ex." And you would be right, that is indeed fairly creepy. But the film makes that very point for us by having R literally consume her ex-boyfriend's brain. The only way the film could make this point clearer would be if the scene had a caption that read "Shame on you if you wished you could do this."
The whole point of the film is depicting zombieism (for want of a better word) as a parallel for being emotionally stunted. R is a man of very few words, but inside his own head he talks to himself incessantly. He leers at Julie with hungry eyes; meanwhile, a voice in the back of his head begs him not to act like such a creep. It's through his interactions with Julie that R slowly comes out of his zombie shell and learns to be human again. Nicholas Hoult's performance is all in the eyes, as R is visibly desperate to break out of his undead body. There's a self-effacing gentleman beneath the grisly, brain-eating monster, and without Hoult's performance, the film wouldn't work at all.
Warm Bodies begins to fall apart in the third act, as the film is forced to introduce some villains for our heroes to fight. Julie's father, General Grigio (John Malkovich), is hell bent on shooting R in the face after he discovers his daughter has been hanging out with a zombie. Meanwhile, the film introduces a new set of monsters now that we're officially not scared of zombies anymore. Bonies, as the film calls them, are zombies taken to their logical conclusion: faceless, skin-covered skeletons. While being fairly horrifying in concept, the Bonies are about as hilariously bargain-basement as CGI creatures get.
Aesthetically, the whole film looks about as pale as R's skin. The colors are muted, and the sets are covered in an inch of dust. Flashbacks offer the film's only opportunity for vibrant colors, as we see a brief glimpse of the world as it was before the zombie horde dialed down the color saturation. In fact, 'muted' is probably the best word to describe the entire film. Warm Bodies isn't particularly funny aside from a few well-chosen musical cues, and the PG-13 rating keeps the gore to a minimum, but what it lacks in laughs or scares it makes up for in interesting ideas. It's too bad ideas alone aren't enough to carry a film, or else Warm Bodies would truly be something special.
|Hoult's Zombie Stare||8/10|
|Ideas||Enough for Ten Films
*True story: I got shushed in the theater when it dawned on me that this was Romeo & Juliet.
MINORITY REPORT: So this is the not-creepy version of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? - Sean "Keanu Grieves" Hanson
If nothing else, Warm Bodies wins my coveted "Holy Rollers Award for Coming Up With a Clever Title." - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison