Movie Review: WARM BODIES (2013)

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In the wrong hands, Warm Bodies could have been a painful experience. Sweet, hoodie-wearing, indie-rock-loving emo boy – who is also a zombie – woos his lady love? The recipe for the twee-est of all tween zombie flicks is right there on paper. But in the hands of upcoming director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), it’s just a freaky good time. It’s admittedly a pretty lightweight flick, but it nimbly jumps from laughs to scares to a few genuine romantic moments. And it’s got a surprising amount of brain-chompin’ for a PG-13 flick.

Adapted from the novel by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies tells the story of ‘R’ (he can’t even remember the rest of his name), a purposeless young zombie trapped roaming the halls of a burned out airport after the zombie apocalypse. Here, zombies pantomime their way through their old jobs, barely making eye –contact with each other and grunting their way through life. Via R’s far more articulate voiceover, though, he informs us that this is really all there is left to life – other than the occasions when he and the crew strike out to find some fleshy food. It’s on one of these trips that R meets Julie – as she and the zombie-resistance crew try to blow away R and Co. Thinks go wonky for the resistance, though, and R “saves” Julie by dragging her back to his airport home, in order to give himself some time to turn on the charm.

Here’s where things might get dicey for ya – cue the happy-go-lucky, falling-in-love montage, as R’s socially awkward zombie ass tries to find ways to attract a living girl. The whole thing could be stomach-turning: listening to vinyl together, silly dancing, cruising around in a sports car left at the airport. And if Levine didn’t have a good sense for both teenage malaise and the moments that spark people out of it, the whole thing would feel fake as hell. Fortunately, his romantic moments make for an 80’s-style good time. On top of that, the film can turn on a dime, and you may never know when adolescent googly eyes are about to turn into chomping teeth. Also, Levine deserves extra props for shooting the zombie attacks and chase scenes with just as much verve as it’s comic moments; you won’t be horrified, but in the right moments, you will be kept on the edge of your seat

It also helps that you’ve got two charismatic leads selling the whole thing. Nicholas Hoult (Beast in X-Men: First Class), looking kind of like the dude that sings for My Chemical Romance, nails the space between shambling corpse and hopeless romantic. Eyes constantly wide open, he proves a solid comedian, while still willing to let loose with the creepiness when R chows down. At first glance, Teresa Palmer’s Julie might seem like a lifeless Kristen Stewart-Amber Heard hybrid, but give her a chance; she also manages to sell both the disturbing moments and the funny ones. Possibly best for the laughs, though, is Rob Corddry, tuning down his usual asshole shtick, and turning in a hilarious performance as R’s slow-evolving buddy M. And as Julie’s living boyfriend, Dave Franco brings obnoxiousness and smarm like only someone in the Franco family can. The only person who could have given their role some more kick, surprisingly, is John Malkovich as Julie’s zombie-hating father; he’s solid, but the performance could have benefitted from more of his trademark weirdness.

Warm Bodies doesn’t re-invent the wheel – it’s nowhere close to Shaun of the Dead – but it’s still impressive as a Hollywood flick willing to push at the standard zombie conventions. On top of the gore and the romance, Levine does find a little space for some social commentary. Much akin to Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, there’s ideas here about how the monstrousness of our zombie-fied world is really a product of how disconnected people have become from each other. And the discussion of “the wall” holding out “the zombies” is pretty damn blatant. But again, like most of Warm Bodies, it’s never too heavy. That shouldn’t detract from the film does well, though. As a fun, original twist on a genre awash with same old-same old zombie flicks, and as a film that balances the brain-eating with the heart-warming, it’s worth your time when it hits theaters this February.

Rating: 3.5/5 ★★★½☆ 

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About Josh_C

Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).

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