Ah, February. Finally we’re into the time of year where you can actually start hoping for good movies again. In fairness, this January wasn’t too terrible; yes, it did happen to contain possibly the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life (seriously, if you missed my last review DO NOT seeMovie 43), but Gangster Squad and The Last Stand were genuinely entertaining, if flawed, movies. Now, though, that the January rejects have passed we’re going to start seeing movies that the studios think might stand a chance and put a bit more effort into. First up is Warm Bodies.
Warm Bodies tells the story of R, a young zombie who is residing in a deserted airport with a whole slew of undead companions who spend the time aimlessly shuffling about and grunting incoherently. When the zombies occasionally get hungry they get together in a group and go out to find food, and because they’re zombies, this food is, of course, human survivors. On one particular day R comes across a group of humans and after eating the brains of one of them he ends up developing feelings for Julie, the girlfriend of his recently deceased meal. See, as R explains through voiceover, zombies crave brains because it allows them to briefly feel the experiences and memories of the human it belonged to. Brains allow zombies to feel alive again. At this point R decides to take Julie back to his airport home to keep her safe from the other zombies. This moment of human empathy sparks a change in R, causing him to slowly “get better.”
The obvious point of comparison that many people will make with this film is Twilight. Even I, when first hearing about the film, wrote it off as a knock-off trying to cash in on the craze of that horrible franchise. After all, they both share a similar conceit: a human girl and a supernatural undead boy fall in love. I’d like to take this opportunity, though, to say I was absolutely wrong; yes, they share a similar idea, but it’s in the details that Warm Bodies does right everything that Twilight did absolutely wrong. As I told a friend after seeing the movie, Warm Bodies is what Twilight might have been if Stephanie Meyer wasn’t a terrible hack.
I’ve always held that you can make a good story, or more specifically a good movie, out of anything; even a silly idea can make a good story if you know how to tell it. Warm Bodies gets it. Where Twilight is dull, dry, and deathly serious, Warm Bodies knows how to be fun. It takes its inherently silly premise and laughs with the audience, rather than pretentiously pretending to be serious business. It’s actually because of this levity that the film manages to be a more compelling and more human love story; real people like to laugh, they like to have fun, and finding humor in the midst of a terrible circumstance is one of the most human things we can do. The characters in this film are people who you actually care about because they are actually people. They have nuanced character traits that go further than “I love you so much that I would kill myself if you were gone for too long.”
The cast really helps make this film shine. There’s a great chemistry between R and Julie that simply didn’t exist between Edward and Bella (I mean, seriously, they even dated off-screen in real life and there’s not an ounce of chemistry between them in the films). Nicholas Hoult is excellent and manages to bring a ton of heart and warmth to his character, even when the character doesn’t have a pulse and Teresa Palmer happens to look exactly like Kristen Stewart with blonde hair but manages to have a range of expression and emotion beyond a blank, slightly pained look.
Sorry, I’m trying to keep my Twilight bashing to a minimum here, after all, that’s what my Stephanie Meyer movie marathon will be for this March (God help me), but it’s a pertinent comparison. For example, Warm Bodies makes a zombie love story that honors the tradition of zombie mythology rather than replacing it with vegetarians and sparkles. It also adds depth to the mythology by bringing in new ideas. The idea that zombies eat brains has long been a staple of the lore, but this new spin on it, that brains are almost like a drug for zombies, allowing a creature without feeling to feel again, if just for a fleeting moment, is really quite clever. It also ties in nicely with the themes of the film. See, zombies always work best when they are used as a metaphor for something, and in this case, zombies are used as a metaphor for people without love. It’s only once R falls in love, has a spark of human emotion, that he begins to come back to life. It’s corny, but it’s a theme that works really well for this film.
As I’ve been contrasting this film to Twilight, what Warm Bodies really aims for is being a variation on Romeo and Juliet (look at the names of the main characters). It has the same kind of sweetly naïve romance between two lovers from different, conflicting walks of life (or death), and it uses the naïvely innocent quality of R and Julie’s relationship to smartly side-step the uncomfortable issue of necrophilia.
Warm Bodies isn’t a great movie, but it’s a very good one, and by the end its sweet, good-natured love story won me over. It’s full of some great performances, a lot of legitimately funny moments, and even a healthy dose of action (although, the necessity of a PG-13 rating does water this down somewhat). It’s early in the year so this doesn’t mean a whole lot, but either way it’s the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2013. Definitely worth a look.