Wednesday, October 29, 2014
13 FOR HALLOWEEN #12: Warm Bodies
Fellas, you know what it’s like. You meet this girl. She’s amazing. Bright, sassy, never beaten with the ugly stick. You overcome your natural shyness and try not to be the clumsy fuck you’ve always been. Despite all potential to the opposite, there seems to be some spark. You feel like all your birthdays and Christmases have come at once. There’s just one little problem. Her dad hates you. Not doesn’t like. Not regards you suspiciously. Outright hates. Maybe it’s because you’ve got long hair, or your car is clapped out death trap. Maybe it’s your taste in music. Maybe it’s the simple fact that there’s not a man on the face of this earth whom he considers good enough for his golden-haired princess.
Fellas, spare a thought for R (Nicholas Hoult). Not only is he naturally shy, inordinately clumsy and deeply smitten with Julie (Teresa Palmer), he’s also a zombie. Julie’s father, Colonel Grigio (John Malkovich) is the leader of a small enclave of human survivors post-zombie apocalypse. And he hates zombies the way your average Ukip candidate hates foreigners.
R and Julie (geddit?) meet after Julie takes part in a scavenging party into zombie territory to bring back supplies. The exact mechanics of their meeting is: Julie’s boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) shoots R, upon which R kills him and eats his brain. Consumption of said cerebrum allows him access to Perry’s memories, rendering him a little more human and even more deeply in love with Julie. If a million film reviewers hadn’t already beaten me to it, this is where I’d roll out the “zom rom com” tag.
Adapted from Isaac Marion’s cleverly constructed novel, Jonathan Levine’s film is a warm, wryly amusing (rather than laugh out loud funny) horror comedy that explores a couple of nifty ideas, plays reasonably faithfully by its own set of rules, and boasts better chemistry between the leads than the central concept would give you any reason to expect.
Like Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Warm Bodies’ has its zombies aimlessly inhabiting locations they dimly remember from life. A mall in Romero’s film, an airport here. What ‘Warm Bodies’ does with the material that lifts it above mere copyism, is use the bland familiarity of the setting to depict a sort of zombie society. These are zombies who still move around in social groups, rather than as a shuffling and collectively hungry mass. R has a best friend, M (Rob Corddry), whom he meets at the airport bar. They have “conversations” in which grunts and sighs almost become words. R’s voiceover recalls the days when the airport was a hive of activity and people communicated and interacted (cut to a flashback of a concourse full of people using mobile devices and studiously ignoring each other).
The film’s other original concept is its two stages of zombification: those, like R and M, who are still semi-human; and the Boneys, cadaverous banshee-like creatures who are as much a threat to the early-stage zombies as they are to the human survivors. With Colonel Grigio (and thank you to Levine’s script for cutting out the tedious wine jokes that clog the middle section of the novel) basically doing the right thing by the survivors in his charge, never mind that it interferes with his daughter’s romantic idyll, the Boneys become the villains by default.
Levine keeps these concepts bubbling away in the background while he concentrates on the relationship between R and Julie. And with R barely able to put a sentence together (thank Gawd for the voiceover, otherwise we’d have no point of empathy with the dude), there’s no mawkish sentimentality going on. Instead, R’s courtship of his beloved is largely a comedy of errors. A comedy of errors, that is, which morphs into tense cat and mouse game as circumstances send R into the survivors’ compound. This section of the film points up the zombie society idea, with the survivors essentially giving or following orders and no real social structure evident beyond that. The zombies at the airport might not have the vocabulary (though Levine cheats a little by having their ability to vocalise develop almost miraculously whenever the script requires it), they seem the chummier bunch. The humans might still be … well … human, but R and his mates are soulful.