Making a zombie comedy in a world in which Shaun on the Dead already exists is basically like trying to create an MMO in a world in which World of Warcraft exists, or writing an internet film column full of nerdy analogies in which I already exist. This is probably why you see so few of them, who the hell wants to invite -that- comparison, it’s like inviting yourself to be compared to Jesus or Felicia Day.
And yet the makers of Warm Bodies felt themselves up for that, and while it would have been amusing as hell to see their ambition reward them with a face full of pavement and shame, the movie is actually really good.
We open on a post-zombie apocalypse world where the undead (a kind of hybrid between the shambling Romero style, the running 28 Days Later style and a dash of Return of the Living Dead‘s brain eaters, so prettymuch every zombie archetype thrown into a blender) have largely taken over the planet, with just one human settlement remaining in…..well, they don’t say where. But it’s Montreal. Seriously, you can see the mountain, you spot a few familiar buildings here and there, it’s totally Montreal. So see that, Forget the Box editors, I’m reviewing a movie with local importance for once!
Our protagonist is R (Nicholas Hoult), a depressed zombie teenager. No I’m not fucking with you, the movie is largely told from the perspective of a zombie, through voice-over narration of his mostly-intact mind, which is sadly trapped in a shambling, inarticulate corpse. So not much different from most teenagers, really. During a food-gathering trip in a local ruin, R runs across Julie (Teresa Palmer), part of a medicine-gathering party from the nearby settlement and, after eating the brains of her boyfriend and seeing his memories, R falls for her and rescues her from his fellow shamblers. But as their relationship grows and Julie realizes R is more than just a walking corpse, something awakes in R that soon spreads to other zombies, and little by little they start to realize they’re coming back to life. Through the power of love. No, really.
Right here is where people are divided on the film. When this was first announced, I saw reactions raging along the lines of “what the fuck, are they serious??”, mostly from people who didn’t get that no, they aren’t serious. To those worried that this really is some earnest attempt at Twilight with zombies, calm down. Though the movie (and maybe the book it’s based on) often play things straight, you never quite lose the sense that you’re the butt of a very well-executed gag, especially if you’re a) getting angry over the premise or b) God help you, actually taking it seriously yourself.
If you’re like me, and can appreciate the movie both as a sly satire of the whole “girl falls in love with supernatural monster” thing, then you’re in for some fun.
Warm Bodies succeeds largely by its ability to walk the narrow line between sincerity and satire. The entire premise is, to put it mildly, batshit insane, and you never forget that. There are a lot of good comedic moments, mostly courtesy of Rob Corddry as M, who manages to get a great comedic performance in despite having to do most of it through groans and body language. But at the same time, the movie does actually dare to be sincere at times. For every scene of zombies very slowly shambling to the rescue to the strains of “Rock you Like a Hurricane”, we some great character crafting and a good amount of pathos. The supporting cast may be a bit bland, but the two leads put a lot of effort into their performances, so in the end the film not only manages to wickedly satirize Twilight and all its ilk, it manages to beat them at their own game as well, delivering a quasi-believable romance and likeable characters.
Of course, as I said, there are still some weak spots. John Malkovitch does the best he can in a role we’ve seen a million times before. He’s the Colonel Quaritch, the evil military guy who just can’t accept that things are changing and wants to kill all the zombies because a zombie killed his wife. And because they’re fucking zombies, so he’s not entirely insane for having a “shoot first” attitude, I mean I would be too if last week one of them tried to eat my kidney before I was done using it. Still, he’s playing a character everybody’s familiar with and doesn’t get much room to add any meat to the role.
On the other end of the villain crew are the Bonies, skeletal zombies that have over time cast off the last remnants of their former humanity and become a completely feral crew of identical CGI ghouls. This is where I harp on the effects a bit. Warm Bodies isn’t really an effects-heavy movie. Most of the zombies just have a few scratches and scars, some pale makeup and contact lenses. We don’t get much in the way of makeup effects, either in the death scenes or even the look of the zombies. The Bonies are the only real recurring effect in the movie, and they sadly don’t look that great. Partly this is due to low-quality effects, but something else I noticed that took me out of things whenever they were on screen is that all the Bonies are clearly the same CGI model used over and over. There aren’t any variations in height, size, level of decomposition or overall look of any kind. What they really look like, come to think of it, are videogame characters. Just an endless parade of identical figures with no real character or variation. It’s a minor nitpick, but once you notice it, you’ll never un-notice it.
These few minor problems not withstanding, Warm Bodies is still a solid little movie, and if you’re looking for a bit of clever genre subversion you can definitely do worse. It’s certainly better than Vampires Suck in any case…..