You’ve got to hand it to creators when they decide to mash together two conflicting genres in the hope that it’ll be a smash hit at the box office. You’ve seen cowboys come into contact with aliens in Cowboys & Aliens, a straight-up heist movie become an all-out vampire fest in From Dusk ‘Til Dawn and Adam Sandler attempting to be funny again… in pretty much everything since 2002. All of these shouldn’t work, and typically don’t, but some do. So when you see February pop up on your calender you know what’s coming… romance. Yes, it’s the season of cupid, expensive dining and pricey roses, so the movie studios like to capitalise with some love-themed hits year after year. But this year, it appears they thought “hey, you know what kids like nowadays? Zombies… let’s do a zombie love movie”… and seemingly, Warm Bodies was born.
Warm Bodies is an interesting chimera. On one hand its horror… hell, it’s about zombies, and some of them look pretty damn repulsive (the so-called “bonies”). But on the other hand it tries to slam in a romance, as one of our shambling zombie friends, “R” (Nicholas Hoult) is conflicted, because beneath his vacant exterior is a mind questioning everything about his existence. He doesn’t remember his name, nor anything pre-turning into a zombie. But all of this changes when he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer) – a regular human who’s out scrambling together supplies for her father, the Colonel (John Malkovich), who manages the last bastion of humanity. You see, R falls in love with Julie… after he’s eaten her boyfriend’s brains. And so begins the most bizarre love story you’re likely to see in 2013.
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a zombie purist. Maybe not even a “purist” per se, as I like my zombies to run around, as opposed to shambling around. I’m a huge fan of 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead – two films / shows that I really think have nailed the genre to a t. So maybe this is clouding my judgement of Warm Bodies. You see, these zombies are remarkable adept. They’re a bit like really clever velociraptors from Jurassic Park; not only can they open doors (clever girl), but they can also sit down, operate machinery and seemingly talk to one another. This isn’t what a typical zombie does. So any big genre fans in the audience will automatically feel a little awkward and uneasy. This isn’t the undead they’ve come to know and love. Hell, they show RESTRAINT. And feelings. What?!
Although the movie got a good deal of sniggers and laughter from the audience I was in with, I just failed to connect with much of the humour. Yes, there were certain lines from R’s best friend M (Rob Corddry) that made me chuckle, but overall I can’t say my thirst for
brains humour was sated. This film tries to bill itself as a “rom-zom-com”… you know, trying to make out it’s the first to do this. Unfortunately, it’s clearly forgetting the existence of Shaun of the Dead – one of the most fantastic genre-mashes of the past decade. That film scored high in romance, zombies and comedy. Unfortunately, I felt that Warm Bodies was lacking in the “com” part. It had the zombies, that’s quite obvious, but it really lacked the laughter.
And let’s come on to the romance too whilst we’re at it. The more astute amongst you will notice something about those names… R, Julie, R’s best friend M… in a romantic story. Ringing bells? The original novel by Isaac Marion is a huge homage to Romeo & Juliet (hence Romeo, Juliet and Mercutio), but it doesn’t hit quite the same notes as the classic tale. Whilst I thought the romance between R and Julie was touching, I just felt that the dialogue coming out of Hoult‘s mouth was too jarring and awkward. The best dialogue of the film came from his inner monologues – they were touching and funny on occasion too. You’ve got to give credit to Hoult, as this is a very difficult role to undertake as it’s either going to come off as hammy or camp. There’s no way you’re going to come across as anything else when you’re trying to play the zombie role as “light and funny”.
The one thing that really kept me going was the plot – I was intrigued to see how they were going to finish off the film. Was it going to go the tragic Romeo & Juliet way, or are we going to see something entirely different? Obviously, I’m not going to blurt it out here, but I found the story quite interesting, having not read Marion’s novel. But that can only take you so far. I’m relieved that the acting from the core cast was of a good calibre, but it wasn’t winning me over to any real degree. As I say, I feel for Hoult, as he’s a fantastic young actor, but this isn’t the best showcase of his talents owing to the obvious limitations of his character.
Once I got over the initial shock of “these aren’t proper zombies are they?”, then the film became much more enjoyable. The film will try and bill itself as being for “fans of zombies”, but I’d dispute that. In fact, if you’re a die-hard fan of the genre, I’d probably tell you to exercise caution here, as you might not like what you see. Those brain-dead corpses in your mind aren’t really ferocious here, not are they brain-dead. If anything I’d recommend this film to casual fans of zombies, or those that don’t even have an opinion on them. You’ll get much more out of this than the more dedicated amongst you.
As a mash-up of genres, Warm Bodies certainly is not a bad attempt. Whilst it’s not From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, it’s certainly not terrible. If this film takes off at the box office, I can’t help but wonder what abominations the studios will cook up to keep the audiences coming in for Valentine’s Day. Perhaps a romance between a woman and a ghost? Oh, that’s done? Erm, how about a romance involving vampires? Oh, they’ve done that too? They made how many of those? Wow. OK, maybe we should just have a romance between a boy and a boulder. That hasn’t been done before. It’s unique and edgy. Though hopefully it doesn’t end in quite the same tragic way as 127 Hours. A messy divorce.