Movie Reviews

‘Warm Bodies’: Dead on arrival

By Kevin MathewsMovies - 14 March 2013 3:45 PM | Updated 18 March 2013

‘Warm Bodies’: Dead on arrival

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Rating: 2 stars out of 5

The “zombie” has become such a staple in our modern pop culture that it is inevitable that ideas beyond the standard conventions would be explored. Whether these works are able to survive outside the norms of the genre is a different story altogether.

‘Warm Bodies’ began life (so to speak) as a novel with writer Isaac Marion utilising the unlikely concept of a “zombie romance” to examine the age-old issue of what it means to be human. In addition, Marion uses as his romantic reference points allusions to Shakespeare's ‘Romeo & Juliet’.

From a movie studio’s perspective, the commercial appeal behind an adaptation of ‘Warm Bodies’ is self-evident. Inevitable comparisons to the vampire romances of ‘Twilight’ cannot be ignored and what studio executive could pass up the chance to tap into that lucrative market which is the young tween supernatural romance demographic?

'Warm Bodies' Trailer

However, there’s no escaping the basic flaw in the plot premise – it’s an absurd idea! In the first place, zombies are dead and are not able to think, feel or communicate: how does a living person carry on a relationship with a corpse – reanimated or not? Secondly, zombies are rotting and feed on human flesh – that’s a definite non-starter for any relationship between a zombie and human, don’t you think?

These are almost insurmountable hurdles and so director/screenwriter Jonathan Levine’s approach to emphasise the comedic aspects of the story is a logical solution. Thus, the whole inanity of the concept becomes an in-joke shared between the movie and its audience, which begins the moment that R – our star zombie – narrates the opening scenes which function as an expository set-up for the movie.

This makes the first 15-20 minutes of the movie eminently entertaining – probably the best portion of the movie – despite the liberties Levine takes with the zombie canon. After all, R and his cohort barely look like the zombies one might have gotten used to on ‘The Walking Dead’. Yes, they look pale, have deadened eyes, grunt instead of speak and do the obligatory zombie shuffle but all blood and gore is suspiciously absent. The only way these nagging doubts can be adequately removed is through the treatment of ‘Warm Bodies’ as a comedy and nothing else. But of course, it has to be more than that...

That’s where the movie simply falls apart. R must meet his Juliet (in this case, Julie) and from that moment on, the movie does not make any sense and becomes a tedious love story with superficial zombie genre trappings. Levine would have his audience believe that R’s love for Julie is transformative – as illustrated by the visual of his (dead) heart beginning to pump once again – with an entire sequence in R’s home (an abandoned airplane) designed to cement the bond between the couple. Even if one takes this plot device at face value, there is simply no explanation as to why R does not kill Julie in their first encounter. Love at first sight? Obviously that is the whole point Levine is trying to make – love is able to transcend even the fog of R’s zombie condition and ultimately save him (and the world). Fair enough and one might argue, a valid message to communicate.

However, Levine is not proficient enough to create excitement and tension on screen to distract from the inherent flaws. Yes, ‘Warm Bodies’ is a fantasy and not meant to be dissected in this manner but at least, grant an audience frenetic action and high drama so at least the ride can be an entertaining one even if nothing makes much sense.

The pacing of the narrative is uneven, with too many unwelcome pauses that pull down any momentum whatsoever. The frequent use of flashbacks is also jarring and on many occasions illogical and disjointed. The single opportunity for Levine to create genuine tension – through the skeletal, monstrous zombies known as Bonies – falls flat due to shoddy CGI, which jerks the audience out of any possible suspension of disbelief.

Nicholas Hoult (‘X-Men: First Class’, ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’) does a fairly credible job as R, trying to find a middle ground between expressions of the undead and living; and his performance is probably the highlight of ‘Warm Bodies’. His love-interest Julie is played by Teresa Palmer, whose only qualification seems to be a physical likeness to Kristen Stewart. John Malkovich is a massive disappointment as General Grigio (Julie’s father) as he effectively phones in his performance. To be fair, not even Malkovich could have polished that turd of a character or reanimated this corpse of a movie.

Nothing much to recommend “Warm Movies” by, except perhaps Nicholas Hoult’s performance. If you do watch ‘Warm Bodies’, remember to leave your brains (and heart) behind.

‘Warm Bodies’ opens in theatres 14 March 2013