Thursday, October 3, 2013

Warm Bodies

Directed by JonathanLevine.
2013. Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.
Nicholas Hoult
Teresa Palmer
Dave Franco
Analeigh Tipton
Cory Hardrict

The zombie apocalypse has already happened. R (Hoult) doesn't remember quite how. All he knows is that he’s been a corpse as long as he can recall and that he thinks his name started with the letter ‘r’. He’s a bit different than most of his kind. He’s fully aware of what he is, and what’s going on around him, evidenced by the running dialogue in his head that serves as our narration, even though he has the physical limitations of other corpses. He groans, stares, occasionally utters a word or two, and generally walks pretty slow. And yes, he eats people, particularly their brains. While out on a food run, he meets human girl Julie (Palmer) and instantly falls in love. The feeling is made stronger by the fact he’s just eaten her boyfriend’s brain which gives R the lad’s memories. Naturally, many of these include Julie. Against his better judgment, he saves her life and takes her back to the airport where he and lots of other corpses wander around all day. Romance budding against the backdrop of the war between the living and the undead ensues.

Warm Bodies manages to successfully subvert zombie lore while simultaneously embracing it. For one, the zombies themselves aren't completely mindless. They’re not anywhere near as lucid as R, but there is a thought process taking place, albeit slowly, but it’s there. Helping this not feel like a slap in the face of George A. Romero is the inclusion of the Boneys. They are the walking skeletons we’re told every corpse becomes, sooner or later. When this happens, they will truly be devoid of any thoughts other than how to get their next meal. It’s a classic case of using an even more despicable villain in order to make a questionable protagonist seem like a good guy. Combined with R’s oh-so-normal late teen/early twenty-something male sensibilities and confliction over his state of being, it works wonders.

Since I mentioned genre god George A. Romero, I’d be remiss if I didn't also note that zombie films are historically the most thinly veiled metaphors for what’s going on in current society. Whether intentional or not, this one provides a commentary on how the ceaselessly increasing presence of social media is eroding our face-to-face social skills. At least I read it that way. The final scene of the movie seems to echo that sentiment and make a plea to us in the audience.

Symbolism aside, our enjoyment of WB is enhanced by the way our romance is written. R comes across as a socially awkward, but really trying young man. His efforts to impress Julie are similar to what many a boy has done, and will do, to win over a girl. This makes him likable. More importantly, we understand why Julie likes him. This is in stark contrast to one of the biggest problems plaguing the recently concluded Twilight series. In that, Edward Cullen is so brooding and anti-social he seems on the verge of becoming an abusive partner. After all, the gift he keeps promising Bella is death. Bella is so constantly depressed she appears to be looking for someone to commiserate with. Her fascination with Edward plays like an unhealthy obsession, a true fatal attraction. That’s not the case in Warm Bodies. Here, we have two people in an extraordinary situation, but neither appears to be looking for a way out of life. Contrarily, Julie wants nothing more than to keep living. R’s biggest desire is to feel alive. Despite the prevalence of death in their society, in many guises, Julie is vibrant and R aspires to be.

In the ever-expanding ocean of Romeo and Juliet inspired romances, this has to be among the most unique. Our Romeo is a pale, dead-eyed thing with real issues expressing his feelings, yet we understand him just the same. However, a well done love story is not the only thing propelling this movie. It’s also a tasty slice of dark humor. The jokes themselves aren't often morbid, but enhanced by the morbidity of the situation. Corpses trying to communicate elicits enough laughter on its own. There are also R’s thoughts. Through all of this, WB congeals into a potent mix of comedy and carnage. Add the fact that our tale is, literally for some characters, a heart-warming one, and we get a zombie flick that appeals to fans of the genre and to those who don’t necessarily go for that sort of thing.

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