Thursday, January 31, 2013
“Warm Bodies” – A great zom-com.
I am Legend was the first movie to posit that zombies aren’t necessarily mindless monsters trying to eat brains without being a spoof or comedy. The alternate ending of that movie on the DVD (which I declare should have been the real ending) depicts a zombie displaying feelings for its mate and forgiving Will Smith for taking her. Warm Bodies takes that idea and dials it up a notch by taking us into the minds of the zombies to hear what they are thinking. The difference between the two films is that I am Legend was a serious survival thriller, where Warm Bodies is a romantic zombie comedy, or zom-com if you will.
Nicholas Hoult stars as the zombie, R. “R,” because he can’t remember his name. The film begins with R quickly filling us in on the state of the world as he roams around an airport – a zombie apocalypse has occurred and the world is filled with wandering zombies that want to eat brains, but still have thoughts running through their heads and we get to hear R’s thoughts. We spend a little time getting to know him and his daily routine; even get introduced to his friend M (Rob Corddry) with whom he communicates through a series of grunts and almost-words. However, his routine is interrupted when he and a bunch of zombies discover a pack of humans raiding a pharmacy. The human group includes Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and when the zombies attack, the humans start shooting. Perry shoots R, causing R to kill him (while narrating how bad he feels about it) and eat some of his brains. It’s at this point we learn from R that the reason zombies crave brains is because they get to experience the memories of the person by eating said brains. At the risk of hyperbole, that’s the best reveal in a story that I’ve seen or read in a long time and is where the movie truly grabbed me. Finally, we have an answer to the age old question, “why braaaaaains?”
Due to the combination of his own self and ingesting Perry’s memories, R suddenly has romantic feelings for Julie and protects her from the rest of the zombies by smearing some of his zombie slime on her to disguise her smell and stashes her in his home – an airplane. Though Julie wants to go home, R convinces her that it isn’t safe, but that he’ll take her home in a few days. During this time, we get to know much more about R and Julie and watch their relationship blossom. How weird is it to write a sentence like that about a zombie? Very weird.
I don’t want to give away any more of the movie, but I will say that more of the zombies start feeling emotions again and all of them start to revert back to normal human (this is given away in the previews). One of the things that made this movie really good was the consistency of the zombies’ behaviors throughout the film, as well as the evolution of those behaviors as the zombies change. For example, R’s ability to say actual words gradually gets better, but doesn’t make any unnatural leaps. And speaking of which, Hoult does a fantastic job as R, especially in maintaining that consistency – movements, physical quirks, his speech – as well as delivering a character we can really support.
Not to be outdone, Palmer’s Julie is just as endearing and lovable. Her strength is her ability to portray a vast range of emotions without it seeming forced. This is most apparent when R is smearing his innards on her face. The mixture of disgust and fear on her face is so real that I wonder how nasty that stuff really was.
I know people might be tiring of the zombie fad of the last few years, but this is the kind of movie that makes the fad worth it. Everything about this movie seemed to be well-thought-out and executed. The comedy is good, doesn’t rely on toilet humor, and is well-timed throughout the film. The music is subtle in some places and songs are well-placed to add to the narrative. The story is tight and doesn’t leave loose ends. They even throw in some clever bits of Shakespeare that will make you laugh and proves that this movie wasn’t just some half-assed February film trying to capitalize on zombies or the novel it was based on. It’s a rare movie these days that takes the time to weave a good story and make you care about the characters without sacrificing other parts of the movie. Funny that it was a zombie romance that succeeded where other, more mainstream movies did not.
Rating: Worth twice what you paid for it. It’s the best romantic comedy in years, zom-com or not.