Sunday, 10 February 2013


The mixture of horror elements with teen romance is attracting comparisons to the hugely successful Twilight phenomenon but Warm Bodies is a different beast altogether. While it wouldn’t do badly to warrant those comparisons, it also has an eye on satisfying the mainstream gore brigade in the manner which Zombieland managed a few years back. It wants to have its brains and eat them.

R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie. He lives in an airport with all the other zombies, eight years after the apocalyptic events which caused much of the population to become the walking dead with a need to consume the flesh of live humans. On the other side of the star-cross’d tracks is Julie (Teresa Palmer), who is very much alive and holed up in a military compound run by her overbearing father (John Malkovich). With company in the form of sassy BFF Nora (Analeigh Tipton) and boyf Perry (Dave Franco), she sets out into zombie-infested territory, which is where she meets the dead guy of her dreams. But when boy is meant to want to eat girl’s brains and girl is meant to want to plant a bullet in boy’s head, can a relationship flourish?

It is an intriguing set-up that is rich in potential but all the film’s flaws can be put down to the fact it fails to establish a coherent situation or set out exactly what level of sentience the zombies have right at the start. That the film is all about uprooting the status quo, and telling us things are changing, is no matter. It needs to be clear on its own rules and it just isn’t. We're confusingly told in Hoult’s conceptually distracting opening voiceover that zombies are unable to think, but then watch them solve problems through logic straight away. We're also told they can't run but see them run minutes later. There is no quandary here about whether the zombies should be fast or slow; the filmmakers just pick and choose what they like when it suits.

Almost every ill thought out aspect in the first act sets it on a course which will do nothing but infuriate and it is not helped by what are probably the worst depictions of zombies on screen for some time. Of course the film's hook requires us to believe in a relative humanisation of them but they are so capable in almost every aspect that you almost forget they are meant to be dead (which is why, presumably, the script constantly reminds you of this integral fact). Listening to the zombies converse with each other isn't all that removed from any of the other clunky conversations from every character in the film.

It is not as if we want to see Hoult's rotting member drop off during a tender moment with Palmer, but his character is so prettified and un-decayed that all they have to actually signify he is a zombie is pallid skin under an indie haircut. Although it is refreshing to see that being a hipster vinyl snob doesn't end when the heart stops beating.

Any of these flaws could be forgiven if they were anchored around an emotional core strong enough to hold it together. But it is not. We are just expected to accept the relationship because both parties look quite nice. Every hurdle is easily overcome with a minimum of fuss, from eaten exes to break-ups and makes-ups. Surely the meat of this living/undead affair is the dilemmas caused as a result of his brainlust, rather than the triteness of the insipid forbidden love angle it is lumbered with. As it is, we don't see R touch a morsel after the first act.

It muzzles the undead and removes their potency. It tries to replace this by having truly bad zombies called ‘bonies’ who are flesh-craving skeletal savages, but it is all so bloodless that nothing really feels like a threat anyway – human or zombie. The sense of comedy is underdeveloped and always comes at the expense of what little characterisation there is. M (Rob Corddry) is R’s zombuddy and his character only really exists to provide punchlines. It might get a cheap laugh to have a zombie say "fuck yeah" or "bitches, man" but it certainly doesn't make any sense in the situation the film has established. Even the best joke in the film, about how to act undead, has more than the air of a certain North London-based zombie comedy.

On an aesthetic level, the world it sets up is perfectly fine, if lacking in originality. The landscapes and set design are exceptional but character visual effects have more than a little I Am Legend about them. The use of retro music is charming, with 80s power ballads from John Waite and Bruce Springsteen, as well as real-life musical zombie Bob Dylan.

There is no getting over the fact it is deeply flawed in concept and execution. Not sweet enough to satisfy those who want a punchy, funny love affair and not gruesome enough to satisfy anyone there for horror. It is good to see director Jonathan Levine add another genre string to his bow after 50/50 and The Wackness but this is an instrument he doesn't know how to play. There is a real lack of understanding about how either of the genres which make up this hybrid actually function.


1 comment:

  1. A movie that pays more attention to its characters is always good for me and that’s what I liked most about this flick. Good review Ross.