Romeo and Juliet but, you know, with zombies...
193Very much the re-telling of the tale of two star-crossed lovers, Warm Bodies is an off-beat teen romance that is clever, unique and entertaining. Although it doesn't quite manage to live up to all it could have been, it's still an interesting post-apocalyptic dystopian take on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, that will undoubtedly raise a smile or two with it's boyishly cheeky approach to a genre coined by Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead – The ZomRomCom. I hate myself already.
The tale unfolds largely from the perspective of a young, good looking Zombie, who can't remember his name. He just wants to connect with people, but instead he shuffles around an airport all day, aimlessly roaming, haplessly bumping into other zombies. He passes the time - there is an awful lot of it to pass - by trying to guess what these other undead did for a living before they were, you know – undead. The monotony is described to us via a dead-pan (excuse the pun) and dryly delivered narration from our zombie, R (Nicholas Hoult). It's a nice way to show us that zombies are actually just nice people trapped inside dead bodies who have an insatiable urge to eat humans, especially their brains which are considered something of a delicacy, allowing the consumer to experience the memories of the recently consumed, albeit momentarily. We come to like R, perhaps even pity him.
When it comes to feeding, it's a lot of hassle for zombies really. They're so slow, what with all the shuffling and groaning, that they tend to go out hunting in packs. It's safer that way since the human survivors they feed on are always trying to shoot them through the head. So when it's feeding time, R and his group of undead cronies set out from the airport towards the city. It's while out on one of these slow paced hunting trips that R meets Julie, a dazzlingly beautiful, extremely capable and courageous girl. A few slow motion shots of her shooting a big gun, and R is instantly smitten.
When R saves her from the hoard of flesh-hungry man eating zombie cronies, she finds herself somewhat conflicted. R continues to seemingly protect her from danger, in particular a horrible group of skeletal undead beings that even the zombies are afraid of called the Boneys. Soon Julie begins to see something in R that she thought impossible – there's will behind those dead eyes; even feelings. Can a girl really fall in love with a zombie? And can a zombie really fall in love with the daughter of the militant leader of the human survivors, Grigio (John Malkovich) who, above all else, hates zombies? It's a match made in heaven – or Hell, depending on your religious outlook.
And for all intents and purposes, the recipe is good. But for a few failings, I really rather enjoyed this off the wall comedy. It's a novel and quirky idea that finds its origins as a short story on the internet by Isaac Marion that developed something of a cult following. Later being developed into a novel, though if I'm not mistaken, this step was largely taken with the prospect of the novel being optioned as a film in mind – a novel written with the idea of it becoming a film? Perhaps slightly at odds with the norm, but then, who's to say. Having not read the novel, I can't comment on it's veracity, but the sense I get is that there was a director and lead actor in mind from the outset.
With not a single shopping mall in sight, it's full of ideas that are left of centre – the troubled inner monologue of a zombie, trapped and bitter at his circumstance, but making the best of it – the overly protective leader of the human survivors, Grigio, a puritanical single minded father – the love-struck cute girl who breaks records in getting over having witnessed a horrible ordeal in which many of her friends get chomped up by a group of frenzied flesh eating zombies – throw it all in the mix and you have a recipe for a black comedy, the likes of which we haven't seen since Shaun of the Dead. Sadly, the execution falls just below the mark, and leaves me wishing this had had someone with a little more experience in delivering humour without it feeling too “try-hard”.
Jonathan Levine's approach seems a little cliched and overly confident, and it's here that the film suffers ever so slightly in not reaching it's full potential. It's as though he was directing it with the express intention of it becoming a teenage cult movie, and it falls short in that respect. It leans heavily on the stylings of Kevin Smith and Edgar Wright, and feels a little formulaic due to the strong influences on show. If Levine had allowed himself to find his own tune a little more, this could have been great. Sadly the movie doesn't quite knock it out of the park because of this.
Even in the choice of lead actor, they somehow don't quite nail exactly what they were hoping for. Not that Nicholas Hoult doesn't do a good job, though at times he seems more drunk than "undead", but what he definitely lacks is the charm and sophistication to deliver the style of comedy Levine asks of him. Johnny Depp would have been the obvious go-to guy for exactly this particular brand of delivery, but perhaps a movie with a budget as modest as this, and with Depp already having played the undead recently in the tongue-in-cheek and very devisive Dark Shadows, that was a an unlikely fit from the outset.
All of that being said, within the first five minutes of the movie, I felt like I was in for a treat. It's a bonafide fantastic take on a genre that's all but completely saturated beyond redemption. Telling the zombie flick from the perspective of the zombie is unique - I don't think I'm aware of any other movie that's done this - and it is genuinely done well. It has me in the palm of it's hand, but for all too brief a time before it descends into romantic-comedy slurry. So close, yet entirely watchable.
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