Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Zombies Need Love Too, Apparently: WARM BODIES Advance Review

One of the reasons I quit watching AMC’s The Walking Dead—other than the fact that it was terrible and I hated about 95 % of the characters—was that it was so damn depressing. I don’t think anybody on the show or watching the show ever has any delusions that the series’ zombie epidemic is ever going to end or be cured, so the protagonists simply muddle through from one possible safehouse to the next, losing more and more series regulars along the way to increasingly gruesome fates. Making things worse, unlike a zombie movie where, no matter how bad things get, it’ll all be over in about two hours or less, The Walking Dead has the potential to run for years (and with its blockbuster ratings, it probably will). Granted, the zombie genre is not exactly the most hopeful or uplifting category of movie anyway, which is why the new teen-oriented romantic horror-comedy Warm Bodies is such a pleasant surprise; it may be the most optimistic movie ever made about a zombie apocalypse.
When the movie begins, civilization has already collapsed under the endless assault of flesh-eating ghouls. The surviving humans have walled themselves up inside heavily armed compounds, where they desperately seek a cure for the epidemic. Outside the walls, the zombies shuffle through their un-lives, seeking live flesh and brains to feed on. We are treated to the inner monologue—who knew zombies had such a thing?—of one such zombie, a young, hoodie-wearing slacker named R (About A Boy’s Nicholas Hoult, whose spiky black hair and angular features make him look like an anime character come to life). Shuffling around an airport all day, every day, R (the only letter he still remembers of his real name) fills us in on the details of zombie existence. He and all the other relatively fresh corpses, like his best friend M (Rob Corddry), all seem to have faint memories of their actual lives, but are trapped in a gruesomely monotonous existence. Some of them continue to reenact their old day jobs as though they were malfunctioning robots. Others give up any pretense of their old humanity and become “boneys”--skinless, eyeless ghouls possessed of a relentless hunger. One day, R and his zombie pals come across a group of human survivors raiding a pharmacy, and he finds himself strangely drawn to one of them, Julie (Teresa Palmer). The fact that R has just munched on the brains of her boyfriend (21 Jump Street’s Dave Franco, little brother of James) might have something to do with it; we’re told that eating brains gives zombies a taste of the victims’ life, thoughts, and feelings, and is the closest the living dead get to experiencing actual life again. Whatever the reason, R feels compelled to rescue Julie, helping her to pose as a zombie to escape the massacre, and taking her back to his lair inside an airplane wreck. As the two grow closer, R feels his heart actually beginning to beat again, a contagious phenomenon that eventually spreads to M and the other airport-dwelling zombies. Unfortunately, Julie’s dad is the hard-charging leader of the human resistance (John Malkovich, either reining it in or phoning it in, you decide), and he’s determined to wipe out all the zombies whether they have skin or heartbeats or not.
Warm Bodies actually manages to, pardon the term, lend some rejuvenation to a rapidly-decaying genre. It mixes and matches elements from various existing zombie movies (these guys eat both flesh and brains, not exclusively one or the other), while coming up with some new tropes of its own. It may also be the first zombie movie yet where, not only does a human have to pose as a zombie (as in Shaun Of The Dead, probably the closest other film in tone to Warm Bodies), but where a zombie is forced to try and pass for a human. There’s a suggestion early on in the film that the zombie apocalypse came about when people stopped having any kind of meaningful interaction with each other (R briefly remembers a world of the living where everyone always had their eyes cast downward towards their mobile devices, laptops, and tablets), which is a fun, original idea. Warm Bodies further posits that the epidemic might be reversed if both the humans and the zombies can learn to feel again. Based on the book by Isaac Marion and directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness), Warm Bodies is probably most ideally suited to fourteen-or-fifteen-year-olds (Hoult is, after all, the dreamiest walking corpse ever to hit the screen, and Palmer bears a striking and probably-not-accidental resemblance to a blonde Kristen Stewart), but feels far less like a cynical Hey Kids, Zombies! cash grab than that might suggest. It could maybe stand to be a bit funnier, but Warm Bodies has a lot more heart and brains than you might expect.

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