2013, 98mins, 12
Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Jonathan Levine, Issac Marion (novel)
Cast includes: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Dave Franco, John Malkovich, Rob Corddry
UK Release Date: 8th February 2013
No antagonist in the horror genre has received more revisionist attention in recent years than the zombie. Whether it be the updated speedy and super savage beasts of Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” or the satirically mounted undead of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland”, it’s fair to say those brain-craving walking corpses haven’t been strangers to the silver screen of late. “Warm Bodies” takes the whole conceit one step further, charting the growth of a romantic relationship between human and infected host. Based on Isaac Marion’s clever novel, “Warm Bodies” is a cut above the shallow supernatural lusting of “Twilight”, but it still can’t match the gripping bite of its source. Having a talented director like Jonathan Levine at the helm (he of 2006’s underrated slasher “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” and 2011’s heartfelt “50/50”) helps matters enormously, but unfortunately even a film-maker of such promise struggles with the family friendly neutering the property has undergone. It’s a serviceable picture, strongly visualised and capably performed, but it lacks the edge which might have ascended it toward greatness.
R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie. He has been for an unidentifiable period of time and can’t remember how or why. Most of the population share his condition, the planet having fallen into apocalyptic disrepute, with only pockets of human survivors colonising small corners of the globe. Whilst out hunting, R and his fellow zombies overcome a squad of the living salvaging for medical supplies. After a brief and one-sided skirmish, R kills Perry (Dave Franco) but takes his girlfriend Julie (Teresa Palmer) hostage, feeling an unspoken connection with the quivering young girl. As time passes and R inherits some of Perry’s memory, he begins to fall in love with Julie, and much to her dismay, she begins to feel the same way about her cold-blooded protector. Their connection begins to trigger a change in the other zombies, but leader of the human resistance and Julie’s father General Grigio (John Malkovich) remains intent on wiping out the flesh-mongering threat once and for all.
Whatever faults “Warm Bodies” may harbour, the picture’s cast don’t rank amongst them. The sharp ensemble connects appropriately with the material, like Levine finding a nice balance between the comedy and drama of the scenario. Hoult is particularly expressive as R, using an unusually probing interior monologue and some tiny, sweet expressions to combat the inherently limited movements a zombie struggles against. His chemistry with the charismatic Palmer sells the central romance, Levine even going so far as to delicately address some of the complexities of their friendship. How will Julie react to the fact R devoured Perry? Is the damage wrought by zombie attack too severe for inter-species forgiveness? What are the sexual ethics of a zombie-laden world? Well actually the final question doesn’t get much of a look in, which is a pity because it was a fascinating cornerstone of Marion’s text. The author examined the carnal emptiness of zombie intercourse and the complications of a romantic dynamic between human and corpse with inspired confidence. Levine has clearly been instructed to make “Warm Bodies” teen appropriate, a sturdy financial move for sure, but one which does the narrative no favours. This cleansing of the book carries over into the rushed finale, much of the forceful catharsis and viciousness of the novel’s denouement sacrificed to accommodate some muddled, bloodless combat and a rosier ultimate outcome. It might not bother those uninitiated with Marion’s work, but it certainly disappointed me.
Levine outsmarts the obvious budget restraints by largely staging the picture over two plains, the first an abandoned airport where the zombie hoards thrive, the other the walled city where the human resistance hides. Both sets are expansive and detailed with admirable atmospheres of hopelessness and despair. The production value in “Warm Bodies” is relatively high, except when it comes to the CGI baddies known as “Bonies”. These skeletal creatures are soulless monsters, used by Levine as an example of the zombie infection at its most lethal. Unfortunately the CGI used to render them is patchy, a pity as their lean design is actually pretty creepy.
The script has a sincerity and earnestness that elevates it above the hollow posing of “Twilight”, the central dynamic actually possessing some heft and heat here. “Warm Bodies” maintains a strong line in self-awareness, especially where Rob Corddry’s zombie sidekick is concerned. Despite being buried under a layer of believable make-up the comedian still displays whiplash skill with a punch line, helping the movie on its way to a respectable giggle quotient. Ironically for a picture about the dead, “Warm Bodies”’ funny-bone is very much alive; this tool going some way toward rectifying the narrative shortcomings and bottled finale.
Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders deliver a solid musical score, helping Levine’s creation to both honour and expose some of the zombie sub-genre’s odder conventions. “Warm Bodies” is a tolerable work, made with the absolute best of intentions by a respectable young director. However as a fan of the book it’s hard to overlook some of the glaring tonal and structural differences, all of which have a deterrent effect on the motion picture. Funnily enough this is one film I’d recommend only for those oblivious to its previous incarnation. Fans of Marion’s initial literary foray are liable to be left shrugging by this noble but imperfect cinematic translation.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013