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Review: Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm Bodies (2013)

Directed by: Jonathan Levine

Premise: Taking place amid a zombie apocalypse, an undead young man (Nicholas Hoult) meets a living woman (Teresa Palmer) and his feelings for her cause him to slowly revert back to life.

What Works: Warm Bodies has been marketed to appeal to the Twilight crowd but this is a much better movie and closer to Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead with its wit and intelligence. The filmmakers of Warm Bodies show an understanding for the zombie genre and set about subverting it. Because of that self-awareness, the film is about more than it appears. Under the premise of Warm Bodies, human beings live in an enclosed, militarized community with a giant wall separating them from a zombie-infected city. The zombies are divided into two groups: corpses and skeletons. The corpses are undead people who retain a vague consciousness but are unable to speak in more than grunts and groans and require a diet of human flesh. The skeletons are corpses who have deteriorated to the point of monstrosity and they are entirely governed by their appetite. This set up makes for a clever metaphor of contemporary society, channeling the social criticism of George A. Romero’s zombie films like Dawn of the Dead. Warm Bodies is about a contemporary world in which people are separated by social status and dehumanized by routine. The rejuvenation of life through love is a clever if somewhat hokey idea and it gives this film a fresh approach to a tired genre. Throughout their movie, the filmmakers of Warm Bodies reengineer the zombie film, upending the conventions and in the process interrogating what viewers get out of this genre. It is also a very funny movie, as it pokes fun at the clichés of the zombie film. The premise of Warm Bodies, along with its humor and intelligence, carries the movie through its shortcomings.

What Doesn’t: Warm Bodies holds very few surprises. Some of this is due to the trailer, which revealed most of the best bits and critical plot points, but Warm Bodies is also very predictable because the story is familiar from other horror-romance mash-ups. The girl-meets-zombie scenario of Warm Bodies is not wholly original; the same premise was seen before in My Boyfriend’s Back and Night of the Living Dorks although Warm Bodies is by far a better movie than those examples. Warm Bodies also treads on obnoxiousness. The thoughts of the lead character are conveyed through voice-over which runs consistently over the first half of the movie. The voice over retreats in tandem with the character’s zombie symptoms but he says very little that is interesting. The rest of the central characters of Warm Bodies are not very compelling either. No one is anything except what they appear to be and most characters are played by fresh faced young actors who look more like the cast of a television sitcom than the survivors of a zombie apocalypse. The premise of Warm Bodies also has a host of problems that will bother zombie aficionados. For instance, if the zombies are undead their bodies would continually decay, meaning that coming back to life would be impossible. More glaringly, Warm Bodies never solves the problem of the corpses’ hunger for human flesh. The lead zombie and his allies just stop eating but the movie never suggests why, especially since their hunger is made to seem irresistible early in the movie. That leads to another problem: this is a zombie movie that is light on gore. Warm Bodies has been made to appeal to a more mainstream audience than Dead Alive but the filmmakers go out of their way to avoid the horrific elements that ought to be central to a movie about flesh-eating zombies.

Bottom Line: Warm Bodies is a respectable entry in the zombie genre. It has serious shortcomings in the storytelling but the movie is entertaining enough for general audiences while also presenting zombie enthusiasts with some novel ideas.

Episode: #426 (February 10, 2013)