Review: Warm Bodies (2013)

Directed by – Jonathan Levine
Written by – Jonathan Levine
Based on the novel of the same name by Isaac Marion
Starring – Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Dave Franco, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton & Rob Corddry

When debating with those of a religious bent the late, great Christopher Hitchens often used to pose the question “what is it like to lie to children for a living?” It’s a simple but effective putdown and it’s the question that kept running through my mind when watching this film; why is Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, 50/50) lying to children? Why is he telling them that love is the cure to everything? Why is he telling them that a zombie wouldn’t just eat someone’s brains and move on? Why am I watching this nonsense? What is going on?

In the same bent as Twilight, Warm Bodies is a film that takes classic gothic / horror monsters and turns them into saps; it is a film that treats zombies with the same contempt that Twilight treats vampires and werewolves and one that abandons its horror roots in favour of mimicking a lame romantic comedy. Predicated on the age-old idea that “love can heal the World” – a notion so immature that, to paraphrase Dylan Moran, it makes one want to be sick into one’s own scorn – it tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic America that is infected with hordes of the undead. “R” (Hoult; X-Men: First Class, About a Boy) – one of the zombies that inhabits this new World – can feel himself changing. He can talk, he listens to music and he even has a “friend”. When he falls in love with a human girl – Julie (Palmer; I Am Number Four, The Grudge 2) – “R” starts to change even more and Julie becomes convinced that the zombies are rediscovering their “humanity”. Her Father (Malkovich; Being John Malkovich, Con Air), the leader of the human resistance, disagrees and thus begins a quest to prove that “R” really can be human. Yawn…

The main problem here isn’t the dumbing down and crass humanisation of one of horror cinema’s greatest creations (though that is an issue) but that the film is neither funny enough nor scary enough to class as a “horror comedy”. The romantic element of the plot is so lazily written and so uninspiring that one must do one’s best to ignore that it’s even happening (which, alas, is pretty damn hard to do…), yet the presence of respite elsewhere in the film is similarly lacking. It’s not that the film doesn’t have some appeal but its audience range is about as narrow as its story and, as such, I found the whole thing pretty alienating. It’s a nice idea for a short film perhaps, but even at just 95 minutes Warm Bodies feels very thin and becomes tiresome pretty quickly.

Warm Bodies - 2013

Now, I’ve not read the novel from which the film is adapted but if there are any similarities, I can tell it’s just not for me. To me, zombies are meant to be terrifying. They’re not meant to be attractive, they’re not meant to be kind and they’re certainly not supposed to fall in love with a human. It’s not an original idea (vampires have been falling in love with humans for centuries…), it’s a redundant one. The reason no-one has done this before is because it just doesn’t work. The literature from which the source material takes its inspiration works because it has something to say about what it means to live / what it means to be human, and Romeo & Juliet – references to which are awkwardly shoehorned into the story at every given opportunity – understands love in a way that this film couldn’t even dream of doing. It’s a film that tries so hard to come across as fresh and interesting, its lack of originality becomes even more apparent.

I should also point out at this point that the film seems to have been made on the cheap. The visual effects border on laughable – particularly when the “Bonies” get involved – and it lacks the type of apocalyptic atmosphere that you expect from a film of this genre. The entire make-up budget seems to have been spent on making Hoult look attractive but dead, resulting in a film in which none of the other zombies look like zombies, they just look a bit tired.

Nevertheless, it’s not an awful film per se; the performances are fine (though they’re nothing special), the action set-pieces are relatively engaging and I guess it just about manages to stick to its own internal logic pretty successfully. Unfortunately though, it’s forgettable and utterly uninspired. It, like its characters, lacks personality and instead feels like a cheap cash-in on the “horror monster falls in love” nonsense that came before it. It’s a film full of caricatures, in which everything follows a well-worn path and in which nothing remotely interesting actually happens. It will appeal to a certain audience (and, in this respect, its tone is just right) but it just wasn’t for me at all.

★★

Review also posted on Letterboxd

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