Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, John Malkovich
MPAA Rating: (for zombie violence and some language)
Running Time: 1:37
Release Date: 2/1/13
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 1, 2013
The conceit of Warm Bodies is a truly inspired one. Here is the zombie apocalypse from the viewpoint of one of the undead. He's your average zombie. He is sluggish, stumbling, and set on devouring the flesh of the living, but he's conflicted about that last point.
We know this detail because Warm Bodies uses that old narrative device the voice-over narration to bring an intriguing and amusing perspective to a well-worn concept (The movie reminds us how familiar it is by listing all the usual suspects of why zombies might rise, including, yes, a rage-infected monkey). Zombies might appear thoughtless creatures operating only on an instinctual level, but the first-person narrative gives us perhaps an even more terrifying possibility. There is some form of consciousness somewhere in the recesses of what's left of the mind of a member of the walking dead, struggling to remember its past life and yearning for even a flash of what it was once like to be alive.
Lest one believe this is a horror film, though, writer/director Jonathan Levine's screenplay (based on the novel by Isaac Marion) ensures we do not lose any sleep over the implications of the mental confinement of its claustrophobic premise. It's a gag—a way to bluntly subvert any expectations we might have of the genre's usual trappings—and for at least the first act of the movie, it's a solid one.
Our hero once had a name, but at this point, he only remembers it started with the letter R. R (Nicholas Hoult), as he comes to be affectionately known (Yes, that said "affectionately," but we're getting ahead of ourselves), spends his days wandering the airport of a major metropolis with the rest of his zombie cohorts. He can only imagine why they do this; perhaps it has something to do with waiting, which, as far as he can tell, is now their natural state of being (There's a hilarious flashback in which he wonders what these remnants of humanity must have been like before they changed; surely, they enjoyed contact with other humans, he ponders as a montage of people stare into their cell phones—not much better, really).
R calls an abandoned airplane home, and he keeps a collection of various souvenirs he has picked up on his limited travels, including a fairly respectable set of vinyl albums (He insists it "sounds better," but again, we're getting ahead of ourselves), which he plays while sitting back to relax for the night.
The movie is at its best when it explores R's modest lifestyle and establishes the rules of his world. Hoult's narration lends a matter-of-fact counterpoint to the movie's absurd and horrific developments. Both qualities are present in the story's most unique element, which has R munching on the brain of one of his victims in an attempt to experience something akin to a dream. In the act, he ingests the memories of the organ, and the subjective view of a life once lived serves both as exposition and a source of empathy. There's a dual layer of sadness to those memories—something now lost to R's "new hunger" and something R fears he will never experience.
It's entirely about survival for R now, and as R and some other zombies travel into the city on the hunt for food, the movie swaps perspective for a brief interlude—an introduction to the survivors of the apocalypse. Julie (Teresa Palmer) lives behind a massive wall in the heart of the city with the last vestiges of humanity. She holds out a small, fleeting shred of hope that there might be a cure; her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) is convinced otherwise.
The confrontation between R's friends and Julie's group is devastating for both sides, but when R sees Julie blasting away with her shotgun, everything slows down a crawl as a rock ballad from the '80s plays on the soundtrack. Something about the sight of the pretty blonde stirs something in R, and suddenly, his ability for speech is greatly improved. He tells her he will protect her and brings her back to his home.
R and Julie are archetypical star-crossed lovers (complete with warring factions and their own balcony scene), and R's voice-over quickly veers into the realm of an insecure suitor. It's cute on a surface level, but after the genuinely inventive material of the first act, the shift is a jolt into the familiar—a place the movie previously seems so adamant to avoid. The same swing occurs in the movie's emotional center, which beforehand is epitomized in the conflicting feelings brought about by R's aforementioned eating habit and turns into a sentimental examination of the healing powers of love. Again, it's endearing on a superficial level (Some of the unlikely couple's growing affection is touching) but relies on the standard, predictable trajectory of any given romantic comedy.The final act has fun sabotaging the human-zombie conflict, thanks to a shared foe in the form of "bonies" (which are exactly what one would one imagine them to be based on the name), and the imagination and genre-related humor of earlier events creep back into play. Warm Bodies has elements of true inspiration, but the whole is slightly underwhelming.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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