Film Review: Warm Bodies
As Shaun Of The Dead has shown, everybody loves a good rom-zom-com. And as the all-devouring Twilight franchise conversely proved, that fondness isn’t quite as ubiquitous in the wider world of ‘undead’ romance tales. Nevertheless, it would seem that filmmakers everywhere are still capable of finding enough fresh blood in this topic’s veins with which to make new instalments to the canon.
Jonathan Levine is the latest to try his hand at an undead love story by adapting Warm Bodies, the sleeper-hit novel by Seattle author Isaac Marion. I haven’t personally read Marion’s novel, but I have heard that it’s a little more cutting than its big-screen interpretation, featuring more (ahem) mature themes, as well as a rather more ambiguous ending. However, while Levine’s Warm Bodies isn’t as consistent or emotionally sharp as his previous outing (2011’s 50/50), it remains a fairly strong slice of zombified entertainment.
The plot is sturdy in its simplicity: an unspecified apocalypse has swept the United States of America, and the surviving humans have taken refuge within a huge walled city. Outside the perimeter, zombies prowl the decaying landscape, spending their afterlives groaning, eating whatever brains they can find, and generally being bored stiff. A teenage noggin-nibbler (Nicholas Hoult), who ends up taking the handle “R”, pines for a change of pace, which happily comes his way in the form of human lass Julie (Teresa Palmer). When a small group of human dispatches are ambushed by zombies, R finds himself chewing the brain (and thus ingesting the memories) of Julie’s boyfriend Perry. Consequently, he falls in love with the young lady, and takes her back to his ‘lair’, sheltering her from the other mindless drones keen to feast on her cerebrum.
From there, it’s a wonderfully off-kilter take on the classic ‘winning-her-heart’ formula, with a few curveballs thrown in its runtime. The overall delivery is delightfully sweet and simple, playing up the awkwardness of Marion’s bizarre scenarios, and serving up some knowing winks to zombie folklore with some snappy dialogue. Rather than succumbing to moody posturing or gothic melodrama, Levine keeps things light and breezy for the bulk of the film, making for a surprisingly identifiable central relationship, weighted with a delicate pathos. That, and a pretty solid soundtrack.
Hoult and Palmer both flower in the two lead roles. Given that – hey – one of them’s playing a dead guy, they don’t exactly sparkle with chemistry, per se, but there is definitely a warm, easy presence between the two leads which lends the film a tender charm. The laughs in their romance are pleasingly understated, with R’s more humanistic voiceover giving some real depth to his groany physical manifestation. Special mention should also go to Rob Corddry, who is a riot in the role of fellow zombie M. With his deadpan (pun kinda intended) delivery, he secures a lot of Warm Bodies’ biggest laughs, providing a welcome shot in the arm to the film’s funny bone in choice moments. It’s a shame that the same sense of fun didn’t rub off on John Malkovich, who plays Julie’s militarist father so straight that he ends up feeling as flat and lifeless as his zombie adversaries.
Beyond Mr Malkovich, however, there are several more itchy issues which do sour the overall effect of the film. The antagonistic forces – an unruly clan of skeletons, given the unfortunate label of ‘Bonies’ – are rather poorly realised, both conceptually, and visually. The latter issue becomes more of a gripe, to be honest, with some incredibly ropey CGI work marring some otherwise rather menacing showdown sequences. In addition, Warm Bodies sags in pace lethargically from time to time, due to its relatively laidback narrative arc, and the re-jigged ending does come off as a little bit tacked-on.
Warm Bodies is not a masterstroke of comedic dynamism, nor does it boast a top-drawer structure. What it is, however, is a witty, affable, and – yes – warm slice of popcorn entertainment. Give it a chance: you may find yourself enjoying it more than you’d anticipate.
It’s nothing remarkable, and it’s a little limp in parts, but Warm Bodies does present a surprisingly likeable love story, with its two superb leads weaving a delightful charm.