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Review: 'Warm Bodies' Exhumes A Zombie Romance Without Much Of A Pulse

Reviews
by Kevin Jagernauth
January 29, 2013 4:51 PM
6 Comments
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Credit where credit is due, “Warm Bodies” does at the very least bring a zombie to the big screen that we’ve never seen before: one seemingly caught in the grip of an existential crisis. When we first meet the undead R (Nicholas Hoult) he’s literally and figuratively shuffling through life. His decayed state has also robbed him of his memory (he can’t remember his name, hence the initial), he’s not quite sure when his zombie life began and his “hoodie would suggest I was unemployed.” This is part of the pleasingly sardonic opening to the movie (you can watch the first four minutes right here), but unfortunately, it’s a tone that eventually evaporates from “Warm Bodies” in favor of something far more conventional.

Adapted from the novel by Isaac Marion by writer/director Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness,” “50/50”) the picture released by Summit Entertainment -- the folks behind the “Twilight” franchise -- seems to be aiming for a similar demographic. The PG-13 movie is less for genre fans than it is for tweens looking for another supernatural romance that pits two improbably paired and good looking leads against a system that wants to tear them apart (albeit with far more knowing self-awareness). Will love triumph in the end? You probably already know the answer.

“Warm Bodies” takes place in a not too distant future where humans have walled themselves in against a vaguely described apocalypse that has left citizens of much of the world, or at least the immediate metropolis (a not-at-all disguised Montreal), either as zombies or “bonies,” skeletal CGI super-zombies that are basically a more ruthless and less discerning version of your average brain eater. As R says, his hunger forces him to eat human flesh, but at least he’s “conflicted about it.”

The meet-cute between R and Julie (Teresa Palmer), the object of his affection, is at once both inventive and illogical. She’s the daughter of Grigio (an autopilot John Malkovich), who is leading the resistance, and she’s part of the armed units that head out into the territory beyond the wall for supplies. While in the midst of gathering medical provisions, zombies pick up on the group's scent from the street, and come barreling in for the attack. R is among them, and while he makes quick work of Julie’s boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco), he’s also so immediately struck by her beauty, that he whisks Julie away back to the airport where the zombies live. Wait...what?

Playing with genre is fine, but if you’re going to create new rules, you have to play by them too, but unfortunately “Warm Bodies” continually subverts its own internal logic and basic, believable character motivation to keep pushing the movie along. At one moment, we’re supposed to believe that R and walks Julie back to the airport to keep her safe, even though they’re surrounded by zombies and bonies, who seem to momentarily lose their ability pick up on humans in the their midst (pretending to be a zombie also seems to work). And while that initial journey doesn’t seem to take all that long (one quick cut and we're there), later when R and Julie vacate the airport, it’s suddenly so far from everything, that not only do they need a car, but R and Julie stop in a suburb to rest...only to then spend a few moments taking Polaroids of each other. Yes, the movie is a bit all over the place at times, with the urgency of the plotting coming and going at will.

Even their relationship in general never quite sells how quickly they mutually fall for each other. You might think that R killing Perry, and feasting on his brains (which conveniently allows him to see the ex-boyfriend’s memories of Julie) might be a dealbreaker, but it’s casually, unconvincingly sidestepped. And though the opening third of the movie is essentially one long date sequence with R keeping Julie holed up in his home -- which is an airplane (though why he gets an entire plane to himself while everyone else lives...somewhere...isn’t explained) -- she vacillates between demanding to go home and hanging out listening to his vinyl record collection (“Better....sound...” he grunts) with little rhyme or reason between the two. And when Julie suddenly ups and bolts one night, it’s jarring simply because a moment earlier she was snugly, warmly and comfortably sleeping.

As the movie changes gears from zombie date movie to action flick in the second half, it seems something is making the zombies more human, and if you’ve seen any of the trailers or posters, you know what it is, and it’s exactly as cornball as it sounds. And this is perhaps the biggest failing of “Warm Bodies,” that a movie that flirts so often with lovingly mocking the conventions of both zombie and date movies, eventually falls back on a resolution that is thuddingly cliché, ordinary and slightly ridiculous. Remember those Polaroids? It only takes about five minutes before R is heartrendingly staring at Julie in the photographs, in another instance where she ups and leaves quite suddenly.

There is a much more interesting movie on the fringes of this material. As R slowly regains his human feeling and emotions, there’s a moment when he’s walking through the rain and is surprised and pleased to feel that it’s cold. “Warm Bodies” shorthands or completely avoids much of this rediscovery of feeling, which is a shame, because it’s both funny and fascinating, and certainly would’ve added dimension to everything going on between R and Julie. Hoult and Palmer do what they can, and do bring more to R and Julie than what's on the page, while Rob Corddry and Analeigh Tipton -- as best friends M and Nora respectively -- at times outshine the leads. But “Warm Bodies” never truly commits to the wit and reinvention it promises. The picture leans on a iPod ready playlist of songs -- to help connect the feeling of exile and heartache shared between our zombie lead and teenagers everywhere -- and episodic, rom-com moments to try and bring this undead story life, when a bit more brains might have helped. [C]

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6 Comments

  • Annalisse | July 9, 2013 10:59 PMReply

    In order to prepare a movie review, one must go to the original novel and read it cover-to-cover to review the book itself, watch the movie and evaluate the movie based on that balance and harmony-THEN go for the screenwriter's jugular.

    I experienced R's complete transformation when I read the book. One good example is R's transition from eating body and brains, to food and beverages. There are several segments from the book which should've made it to the movie (for example, the part where the girls get R drunk.)

    When it comes to the "Twilight" franchise, as well as "Harry Potter" many interesting and funny parts were left out. Unfortunately moviegoers that'd rather skip the book and just watch the movie will miss on those.

    I watched the movie in the theaters and I am pleased that the narrative was there, that the novel's author was involved in the process from beginning to end-his input was critical but he had to accommodate at the same time. I bought the movie and can't get enough of it. I love the quote "This date is not going well-I'd rather die all over again." I laugh every time I watch that part.

    When it comes to conventional zombie movies and TV shows, I have to bring up that in the "Walking Dead" series concealing the human scent with a zombie's is there. In fact, I asked my husband and my son about why one of the characters didn't want to clean up. To keep it PG-13 perhaps this was one of the factors they considered when it comes to horror-the bloodshed, the shots to the head, etc.)

    I understand that when it comes to vampires, mermaids, zombies, fairies and such there are changes here and there; and with the evolution from past, original movies to CGI effects there's a lot of room to roam. People want to give personal characteristics and pepper some romance to legends, to things that don't exist and that are not real. The YA books, novels and series has flourished in a direction that I may not agree 100% with, but we gotta face the fact that these movies and books are taking the world by storm.

    Now for the soundtrack: I am quite upset at what they put out there, but folks here at Indie Wire made up for me what should've been the real deal. And for that, I thank you.

  • Sam | November 14, 2013 2:33 AM

    Annalisse, you are dead wrong (hahahahaha did you get it? "dead" wrong? anyways). You shouldn't have to read the book to enjoy the movie. The movie is its own self-contained piece of work that chose to remove certain facets of the book and perhaps add others. Whether these choices end up making a good movie has nothing to do with the book itself.

  • leslie | January 31, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    "Playing with genre is fine, but if you’re going to create new rules, you have to play by them too, but unfortunately “Warm Bodies” continually subverts its own internal logic and basic, believable character motivation to keep pushing the movie along..."

    But but but...My God this reviewer is a terrible writer!

  • dave | February 23, 2013 8:49 PM

    Agreed. This review is garbage. The movie was very cute.

  • tedzey71 | January 30, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    You do realize the zombies can't pick up on her by appearance, but on scent. This is why R covers Julie with his blood to keep the other zombies from recognizing her. Also, the zombies aren't just slow, but super fast when needed (arguably plot convenience, but with the tone of the film felt appropriate). So it isn't an issue when the zombies go over to the stadium. While I sympathize with your final rating, I think this manages to be a better romantic comedy that's part parody of the zombie genre that does follow it's rules.

  • kiki_zinnias | June 25, 2013 8:14 PM

    It's nice to know intelligent people actually watch the movies and reply to these vapid, insipid reviews that miss all nuance in the movie. I feel like I'm reading something by an autistic reviewer when they miss all the really good elements that connect to human emotion. Good for you for stating it!!!

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