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Twilight. With Zombies. That was my biggest fear going in to this movie.
Warm Bodies is based on the novel by Isaac Marion, which is odd because you wouldn’t think there would be so much of a market for a zombie orientated necrophilic romance. Far less a zombie romance told from the perspective of a zombie. Sean of the Dead was a self-styled zom-rom-com, but the emphasis was firmly on the “com” and the “zom” with the “rom” being very much a subplot to the survival aspect and – perhaps most importantly – between two human characters.
My second biggest fear for this movie was that the humour would be an insufferably emo-centric, up-it’s own bum, smug-fest satirising modern society through a metaphor of living death and the ennui of modern youf.
So what’s it all about? It’s the old, old story: zombie meets girl, zombie falls in love with girl, girl’s boyfriend tries to kill zombie, zombie eats boyfriend’s brains, zombie rescues girl, girl loves zombie, zombie admits to eating boyfriend’s brain, zombie loses girl, zombie starts to become alive, zombie gets girl back with help of other zombies, zombie and girl do battle for equal rights for zombies, everyone lives “happily ever after” except boyfriend and bonies – who are dead. But no one ever cared about them anyway.
Nicholas Hoult plays the unsettlingly attractive and endearingly awkward zombie “R”. Teresa Palmer plays Julie, daughter of the militaristic leader of a human settlement (played by John Malkovich). Hoult is really pretty good, far from the pretentious, naval-gazing depressive I was expecting, he portrays a thoughtful and insightful character, who maintains a careful balance between “undead brain eater” and “love-struck puppy.” He’s playing a surprisingly difficult part: he must be funny without becoming farcical; he must be undead without losing his humanity; he must be introspective without being a whiny-emo-bitch and he must be sympathetic without becoming pitiable. And he maintains this balance perfectly. He is a zombie: albeit one who can talk, think and feel remorse. But if you can’t accept this premise early on and go with it, then this film will never work for you.
Teresa Palmer is less successful. Clearly selected on the basis that she is a more-attractive-version of Kristen “Duck Face” Stewart she easily eclipses that slapped arse of an “actress” but that’s hardly a feat of thespian ability. “R” falls for her because she is pretty and (possibly) handy with a gun. Her characterisation doesn’t improve much from there. She cries, grumbles about her shitty life and whines about going home. She also forcibly inserts herself into dangerous situations, waiting for her zombfriend to rescue her. Palmer is resoundingly “ok” portraying a character who is just about “adequate”.
Nothing is left to subtlety in this film and the Romeo and Juliet comparison is hammered home, with everything from their names (Julie and “R”) and a full-on balcony scene, to the inherent species prejudice of their respective ‘families.’ Though here the aggression is not spurred by a perceived insult to their kin but demands to “shoot him in the head!” and “eat her!”
As a further impediment to the lover’s happiness, we also have
Kate Moss the Bonies. These creatures are the “final form” of zombies, a further degeneration for those who have given up on a life of brains and opt instead to rip off their decayed flesh and run around screaming. For some odd reason, R and Julie’s love and holding hands not only causes R to start being more human, but it also acts as a cure for all those who witness their awesome inter-species loving. And the Bonies don’t like this. None of it makes much sense, I know, beyond being a somewhat tongue-in-cheek plot device about love conquering everything.
Horror fans are going to hate this, despite the numerous in jokes. Twiligh fans may lap it up – provided they fail to notice the ironic humour. Despite that I still like it. And I hate romances. And this, to be fair, is a good 60% romance. The humour is very sparse in the first half of the film – and this is the rarest of movies: it actually gets better in the second half. The first half drags a bit, threatening at any moment to tumble over into teen angst territory. The second half thankfully firmly establishes its comedy credentials and introduces a much needed dose of action.
My biggest complaint, beyond the slow start is that the Bonies are woefully underused! They look awesome and are the sole focus of horror in this movie but they don’t get the glorious finale they deserve. Please don’t make a really cool and original monster only to waste it. Also underused are Marcus, R’s zombie best buddy and Nora, Julie’s BFF. These two are really funny and immensely likeable and don’t get nearly enough screen time.
Warm Bodies isn’t perfect but it is endearing. If you are willing to suspend your cynicism (and this is coming from me) and allow it to charm you, invest a little patience and give it a chance to warm up – you will probably find this an original and witty experience. It’s also a great compromise for a date movie: combining chick flick elements with comedy, action and horror in the most unexpected and surprisingly successful way. It’s a bit corny and a bit meandering at times, but it’s firmly tongue in cheek and very original. And it’s nothing like god damn Twilight.