LAKE OCONEE — “Warm Bodies”
Rated PG-13 (for zombie violence and some language).
The zombie has become ubiquitous in popular culture. I remember back when it was the personal property of George Romero. But now, they are on TV, in books and the music business. Who knew the undead would have such a bitchin’ life after death?
Zombie movies have been so formulaic of late, that they tend to cause the living to become brain dead, grunt and lurch about in search for sustenance. And so, it is refreshing that Warm Bodies breathes new life into a decomposing genre.
“Warm Bodies” is narrated by a zombie, a handsome, young lad who can’t remember his past (or name) and roams about an airport. From him, we learn that zombie life is pretty dull.
Meanwhile, the yet-to-be undead, have built walls around their city and send out young people to fetch supplies and kill zombies. (There is a whiff of “Hunger Games” here.) One day, the military leader of the living, John Malkovich, sends his daughter (and her boyfriend) into the danger zone. There, the boyfriend is dispatched by none other than our gentle narrator. We learn that zombies eat the brains of their victims to experience the memories of said meal and feel, once again, what it is like to be alive. Nice touch, that bit of information.
We also learn that the real killers in the zombie world are called “bonies” because they peeled off all of their skin and will kill anything with a heartbeat. The others will too, but “at least they are conflicted,” according to our new zombie teacher.
The living are divided between the optimists and the pessimists. The pessimists (those who believe there is no cure) say they must kill all zombies; it is kill or be killed, that simple. The optimists are eager to temper the head blasting until a cure is found.
Our narrator, who is eventually named “R” (because that is all he remembers of his first name), is attracted to the daughter of the leader (Malkovich) and the girlfriend of the guy he killed. A miracle occurs and his heart starts beating when he falls in love. This starts a slow process, bringing him back to life. And, like a virus, it spreads to all the others. Love… pass it forward.
Now, I have written so many hints about so many metaphors in the movie that a literature professor would swoon with the infinite possibilities of term papers, not to mention illusions to other literary works.
Now, mind you, all of this “metaphorica” does not a classic film make. It is a satire on zombie movies. It is a cinematic gag on young adult movies about young love. It is a little joke on the Moonlight franchise as well and the aforementioned “Hunger Games”. And the romance stuff has a touch of the John Hughes vibe. It is a very light film—for fun; a charming love story about one of the cinematic world’s favorite subjects: zombies. Everything about it is light hearted, tongue-in-cheek and harmless good fun. Chill out and enjoy the joke.
R, the Zombie, is played by Nicholas Hoult. He does a marvelous job playing the Young Innocent effortlessly without crossing the line into geek-mockery. Teresa Palmer plays Julie; tough but not cynical. Both of these roles demand the light touch and could have easily been mangled but they were treated with respect. Kudos all around.
There is more talent here than the director (Jonathan Levine) wants you to see. Most likely he just wanted to entertain, but to do that effectively, he had to do so with subtle craftsmanship. No showing off allowed; just tell the story with wit and humor. And it shows to those who know where to look.
This may be the kind of film only thinking zombie film fans can truly appreciate. It will never be considered a horror film classic because it isn’t horrific; it is a romance.
If you want blood-curdling horror, massive creepiness and the debasement of humanity, you will have to wait for the release of “Safe Haven”, based on the nightmarish novels of Nicholas Sparks. I will skip that movie---unless there are zombies in it and they eat all the pretty people that seem to inhabit such drivel.
“Warm Bodies” warmed my undead soul and therefore it earns four bow ties out of five. (Keep in mind it is scored within the context of zombie films.)