Friday, February 1, 2013

Warm Bodies Review

Warm Bodies is Jonathan Levine's follow up to his critically acclaimed 50/50, which just happened to end up in my top 10 of 2011 list.  I was bit wary going into my screening, not because I thought the film would be bad (which it wasn't), but because I feared that the film's fantastic trailer essentially spoiled the entire film.  In a way it did - every single plot twist and story beat is covered in any of the trailers available online.  I completely understand why this was done; its trailers played Warm Bodies out to be a light-hearted and funny rom-com, when in fact the film is much more serious in tone than I would have ever guessed.

This real-life twist isn't necessarily a bad one - I enjoyed Warm Bodies quite a bit in fact.  I was of course expecting a much funnier film than what was presented to me, but I would say that it is definitely similar in tone to the aforementioned 50/50.  At its heart, Bodies is a story about two incredibly opposite people (literally - one is dead and the other alive) who by happenstance come into each other's lives and eventually fall in love.  R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie (or "corpse" as the non-dead inhabitants of the film call them) who leads an obviously mundane life.  He is our unlikely protagonist; a flesh-craving undead who is compelled by a combination of memory and muscle memory to lead a semi-normal life.  His path eventually crosses with Julie (Teresa Palmer) and he ends up saving her life.  I won't say much more than that because there actually are some nice surprises and tidbits of events that transpire that make Warm Bodies very unique in the zombie genre.  These variations from the normal zombie-film-formula are what I appreciated most about the film.

In this day-and-age of fast-paced narratives and quickly-forming relationships, it's sometimes nice to just sit back and let everything development at its own pace.  Quite obviously Julie would be terrified out of her mind at the idea of being near R, and her early (re)actions are quite believable and her performance is incredibly convincing.  Over time R shows her that he's different and the two develop a strange but incredibly compelling relationship.  Their arc follows a fairly predictable romantic-comedy path, but because of the chemistry of the two actors and their fascinating relationship, I was wholly engaged and rooting for our unlikely lovebirds the entire film.

Warm Bodies does have a few shortcomings, unfortunately.  First and foremost is the underdevelopment of John Malkovich's character, Grigio.  He's Julie's father and the leader (I guess?) of the remaining human population of...wherever our characters are.  The issue with his character is indicative of some of the macro issues of the film.  We get some small hints at what his deal is and what his motivations are in flashbacks, but because Palmer and Malkovich get so little screen-time together their father-daughter bond is never fully formed.  Because R is our protagonist, and his memory isn't that great, we aren't given much information about the world in general or what happened.  In his voice-over, R explains some information but we're left not knowing simple info like what year it is or where we are in the United States.

While Bodies might be a good romantic dramedy, it is a terrible zombie film.  I wholly understand what this film is trying to achieve, but one cannot simply overlook missteps in character logic, plot holes that are sprinkled here and there, and some basic facts that just don't make that much sense.  I very much enjoyed some bits and pieces that subvert the zombie-genre norms, but when you say that eight years have passed since the apocalypse and there is still electricity running through the airport (where R lives), with functioning escalators, you're not doing a very good job of convincing me that this world is real.  I can buy that zombies may have some muscle memory, and continue to imitate their old lives, but why does R collect all the things that he does?  How is this possible?  Does every zombie have a home where they put shit?

I understand that most of these complaints are null and void, considering that zombies are fictional beings with no real science to back up anything.  A writer or director can have them do whatever they want considering there are no real-world examples on which to base our thoughts and opinions, but there are just basic facts and ideas at play that pulled me out of the film.  If you're a fan of horror/zombie films you'll probably be disappointed with how Warm Bodies plays out, including its less-than-action-filled finale.  That said, I did appreciate the incredibly well-developed relationship between our two protagonists, despite the periphery characters receiving little attention.

Warm Bodies delivers on emotion but not on horror.

The Bearded Bullet

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