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Review – Warm Bodies

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By: Stefan Ellison

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For a long time, I have pondered about the concept of an intelligent zombie. What if a brain-hungry, walking corpse had human thoughts? Warm Bodies tries to depict this scenario and while it presents some interesting ideas, the execution never quite takes full advantage of that and we are left with a story that simply shuffles along to its obvious conclusion. Director Jonathan Levine was able to successfully bring laughter to a serious subject like cancer with 50/50 and yet, that same warmth and humour was absent here.

The way Warm Bodies re-writes the zombie mythology is commendable and those represent the most intriguing moments in the film. It seems like every possible avenue has been explored within this horror sub-genre, so to the film’s credit, it is unique in its presentation. Zombies are aware of each other’s presence and even try to fight hard to remember their past lives. Enthusiasts of George Romero will frown at Warm Bodies for trying to make the walking dead “cuddly,” but in the contest of the tale, it somehow works. Most of the credit goes to Nicholas Hoult, who has the difficult task of slowly bringing humanity to a character who can only have so many facial expressions. He gives a good performance, making R (as he is so nicknamed, due to his lack of memory) a likeable zombie and thus, his transformation through the story is believable. One cute character trait is his tendency to collect little trinkets to horde inside of his airplane home. The set designers are commended for filling that small airplane set with so many knick-knacks that it is impossible not to look into the background during those scenes.

However, it also reached a point where I got tired of seeing the aircraft. The pacing is a major issue, as Levine sometimes goes through scenes at a slower than necessary pace. Maybe if the dialogue between the two romantic leads was more interesting, this would not be a problem. However, very little of what they say (or grunt, in the case of R) is particularly funny or clever. The main flaw in Warm Bodies is the very aspect that should have made this so heartfelt. The romance between R and Julie feels forced since both actors exhibit very little chemistry between one another. Julie is a one-dimensional character, lacking the depth given to R, and it was difficult to buy her suddenly falling for him. The character change from scared woman to love interest just never manages to come off as natural. Teresa Palmer’s performance does not help matters as she is also unable to make Julie a particularly interesting character worth rooting for. Her natural Australian accent also sometimes slips through her fake American one, creating more holes in her performance. Thus, Hoult has to be the one to hold the romance together and even that is not enough. When Levine is not giving his characters boring dialogue, he edits a quick musical montage every fifteen minutes, which gets old on the third go. The time spent on these two slowly getting together could have also been spent on the more interesting subplot of R’s zombie friends growing in humanity.

Jonathan Levine’s screenplay is one that was in desperate need of some punching up during production. The insight of his 50/50 writer Will Reiser would have helped bring more humour to the film and make the romance more meaningful. The whole story lacks much in the way of depth and the potential was certainly there for Warm Bodies to be a memorable experience that plays with zombie tropes, while also re-writing them. The film also tends to think it is cleverer than it actually is, with constant and obvious allusions to works like Romeo & Juliet. In Warm Bodies, it becomes a counting game to see how many “subtle” references they can throw into the screenplay.

Following in the footsteps of other zombie films, Warm Bodies also adds in a bit of social commentary, but that aspect is simply there with little impact. The filmmakers tried to pile too much onto the plate, rather than focusing on either the love story or the zombie re-animation. However, to the film’s credit, it does manage to side-step the issue of necrophilia — a thought that would probably occur to most viewers before even buying the ticket.

These rare, clever story choices are not enough to save a forgettable story that simply stumbles around, trying to think of fun scenes, when the most interesting aspects are barely touched upon. If you are curious in seeing a more fresh and inventive take on the zombie genre (also aimed at a young audience, who might find Dawn of the Dead too gruesome), the recent ParaNorman has more meaning, heart and laughs than a single scene in Warm Bodies.

Rating: C

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