Sometimes a movie is released that seems to transcend the norms and rise above the genres that critics and moviegoers alike try to force it into. It seems to reinvent the film industry from the foundation up, causing the audience members that are lucky enough to catch this lightning in their Raisinets box to instantly proclaim this film to be “a classic” or a “one-of-a-kind, cinematic experience.”
I’m sorry to say that “Warm Bodies”is not that movie
However, it really, really, from the bottom of its zombie heart, wants to be.
For some reason, or another, zombie flicks have always been teeming with subtext and hidden agendas. From the father of the modern zombie movie, George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” to Danny Boyle’s stylish “28 Days Later” (calm down, I know they’re not technically zombies - they’re “infected”) to AMC’s episodic “The Walking Dead,” there always seems to be a social, political, racial, sexual or even anti-violence theme that’s creeping around – just below the surface – when these popular, shuffling monsters show up.
It goes back to Romero, whose “Dead” films (“Night of..,” “Dawn of..,” “Day of..,” “Land of.., “Diary of..,” and, most-recently, “Survival of”) have always been stuffed with equal parts of over-the-top gore and moments of human reflection. George, with all the subtlety of a Captain Rhodes death-scene, has cinematically tackled every topic from consumerism in “Dawn of the Dead” to science vs. nature in “Day of the Dead” to the class struggle in “Land of the Dead” and even found himself on the forefront of voyeurism and the social media revolution in “Diary of the Dead.” He, single-handedly, made it almost necessary for anybody who covered the zombie genre since, to do it the same way he did.
And “Warm Bodies” is no different. Although, like I said before, it wants you to believe that it is.
I will give it this. It happens to be the best piece of “Zombie Emo” (“zombiemo” for short) since the Coheed and Cambria video for “Blood Red Summer.” That being said, the words “zombie” and “emo” should have never, not even once, been in the same article together, let alone the same sentence and I hope I never see them combined ever again. To its credit, “Warm Bodies” actually makes some great arguments as to why this should never happen again.
First off – should this film be in the category of zombiemo in the first place? Honestly, I’m not even sure that the creators behind this project wanted it to be zombiemo. I’m not sure anybody involved knew what kind of movie they wanted from the jump. The whole premise and substance behind “Warm Bodies” has confused me from the moment I saw the first trailer.
The film is based on a book by Isaac Marion of the same name, which is described on Amazon.com as “…being alive, being dead, and the blurry line in between.” Wow, how existential. To me, it sounds like it could’ve been about a zombie with a mid-life crisis or something – like some Kirkman-meets-Kerouac hybrid - which would obviously make a weird, yet utterly readable book. But, then the word “teenager” is used in a later paragraph of the description and the whole thing flip-flops into something I would never want to read.
The movie’s identity is just as confusing. Those trailers I saw advertised to make it look like it could be a fun, socially-aware “ZomCom” on the same level of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Fido,” or “Zombieland” – maybe with some scary moments thrown in for good measure. Then, other moments in the marketing made it seem like it was “Twilight”-ish, which means it takes a usually frightening creature from the horror genre, puts some gel in its hair, decks it out in skinny jeans and transforms it into a PG-13, teen-friendly sex object. To me, the former seemed somewhat appealing; the latter seemed completely vomit-inducing.
As for the final results – not quite vomit-inducing, but I could taste something in the back of my throat.
There’s an appropriate question that keeps popping up, in some form or another, throughout the film. Whether it’s asked by or asked of Nicholas Hoult’s portrayal of the hipster, shambling zombie named “R,” the constant amount of incessant pondering is constructed around the word what. As in, “What am I?” – which R asks himself through the magic of narration. Or maybe it’s “What are you?” - a query being asked of R by the girl of his undead dreams named “Jules,” who’s played by the adorable, Australian-actress Teresa Palmer.
I am compelled to take a quick detour to explain that Jules enters R’s dreams in the first place due to a nifty plot device that establishes the fact that zombies inherit victims’ memories from the brains they eat – and R ate her boyfriend’s brains. Talk about love at first bite (cue rim shot). Zombie movie elitists are sure to love this little change in the canon.
Those questions, which are meant to further the film’s miniscule narrative, are fantastic questions that I’d ultimately like to ask the makers of this film. It seems to have no identity, whatsoever. One minute, it’s a romantic movie – with R and Jules giving each other flirty eye contact and sharing puppy love moments. Then, it tries to be a scary film, with skeleton-style, CGI-created zombies called “bonies” chasing our heroes through isolated warehouse districts. Then it’s a socially-conscious, indie flick – with R narrating about how great it all was before the zombie apocalypse. Then the director, Jonathan Levine (who also wrote and directed the charming and vastly superior comedy, “The Wackness,” by the way) flashes that obligatory flashback scene of people in the airport, where R spends most of his time and so does the movie for that matter, on cell phones and iPads and, SAY IT WITH ME, looking like zombies!!
Whatever the film wants to be (and I think it secretly yearns to be placed in ALL of these genres simultaneously) there is one thing that it is not – original. Like a great deal of Hollywood films these days that try to appeal to the masses – it borrows and steals from every film that came before it, which were all fundamentally better films to begin with. It just can’t seem to commit – and for a movie that seems to place a great deal of value in the concept of love and relationships, that’s just hypocritical… and sad.
So basically, if you want to see a funny zombie movie or a scary one or even a preachy, Romero-made one, then go see any of the number of films that I mentioned earlier.
Just stay away from this one, unless you happen to be a card-carrying member of the bleeding hearts club (cue rim shot.)