Saturday, February 2, 2013

Warm Bodies : A Much Needed Injection Of Life Into The Modern Zombie Movie

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When I first saw the trailer for Warm Bodies, I must admit, my eyes were rolling to the back of my head.  It looked as if zombies were being given the Twilight treatment, and I wasn't too happy about it.
 
And then, to my complete surprise, I for whatever reason looked up the movie on IMDb a few weeks back, and realized something I hadn't realized before; this movie that I had written off based on the trailer was written (based on a book) and directed by Jonathan Levine, one of my current favorite filmmakers!  Levine previously directed All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Wackness and 50/50, three movies that I absolutely loved.  GASP!
 
Armed with that knowledge, my thought process completely changed.  I actually found myself looking forward to Warm Bodies, and feeling bad about judging it without really knowing anything about it.  If Levine wrote and directed it, how could it possibly be bad?!
 
So then.  Which opinion about the film was more on point; the one where I wrote it off as being Twilight inspired silliness, or the one where I got excited about it, after realizing who made it?  Well, let's just say that I'd like to issue an apology to Levine, and everyone else involved with the movie, for judging this book by its cover.  It was unfair, and I was wrong.  DEAD wrong.
 
Now I'm not gonna sit here and say that I 100% loved everything about Warm Bodies, every step of the way.  Because I didn't.  The tone is at several points quite uneven, and the whole thing does admittedly come off as being pretty silly, at times.  Truth be told, throughout much of the film's run time, I actually wasn't really on board with what I was seeing.  I was enjoying the movie well enough, don't get me wrong, but something about it just wasn't quite working for me.  I couldn't even pin point what it was, to be honest.

And then, something happened.  Something extraordinary.  By the time Warm Bodies reached its conclusion, my eyes began welling up with tears and I kinda sorta, well, fell in love with the movie.  Some movies you fall in love with right off the bat, while others take a little while longer to burrow into your heart.  Warm Bodies, for me, falls into the latter category, and by the time the end credits started rolling, everything about it had very much burrowed deep into my heart.  Suddenly, it all made sense.  I 'got it', and I loved it.
 
What I really loved about the movie was the message behind it all, and the way that the zombies are used to provide a bit of Romero style social commentary.  Romero's thing was always that we humans are the zombies, and vice versa, and Warm Bodies very much taps into that same idea.  We have all sort of become mindless zombies over the years, just wandering through life and carrying out the daily tasks we've been programmed to carry out.  We're all glued to our phones and we have little regard for our fellow human beings.  We may not eat each others brains, but let's face it ... we're not all that different from our zombie counterparts.
 
In a brilliant moment during the opening of the film, we see our zombie hero, whose name begins with an R, though he doesn't remember what formation of letters comes next, walking through an airport terminal.  Everyone around him is dead, like he is, and in his voice over narration he wonders how great the world must've been, before everyone was dead.  We then see a quick flashback scene of what the world actually was like, before the apocalypse, and it doesn't exactly look as great as R is imagining it must've been; everyone's got their faced buried in their technology, and they're paying no mind to anyone else around them.  No one's communicating or enjoying anyone else's company, they're just focused on the phones in their hands, and the headphones in their ears.  Might as well be zombies.
 
Later scenes involving now antiquated technologies further drive home the idea that we've really become dead, as a society.  R collects records, and when asked by his human love interest Julie why he prefers records over an iPod, he remarks that record players feel more alive.  Later on, Julie finds a Polaroid camera in an abandoned house and the two of them take pictures of one another, which we see develop right before our eyes, as if the pictures themselves are alive (remember that?!).  It's little moments like those that really help convey the idea that we humans are just not alive, the way we used to be.
 
So yea.  I loved all that, and I think it was really clever to use zombies as a way of driving that point home.  Romero may have done it first, this is true, but Levine manages to get across that idea in a way that makes it seem fresh and new, and dare I say even more impactful and resonant than it's ever been in the past. 

I also really enjoyed the character of R, who is undoubtedly the most loveable zombie since Day of the Dead's Bub.  Nicholas Hoult was absolutely brilliant in the role, and the character reminded me a lot of another pale faced, crazy haired 'monster' with scars on his face that fell in love with a human; Edward Scissorhands.  In fact, there's one scene in Warm Bodies that is a direct homage to a scene from Scissorhands, so the comparison was obviously intentional.  R represents everyone who wants more out of life than to merely shamble through it, and do what everyone else is doing.  In that sense, I definitely related to the character, more than I do most human characters in most movies.  Go figure!
 
Though the idea of a human falling in love with a zombie may make it seem like this is one zombie movie that's going to turn off the real zombie fans of the world, Warm Bodies is actually quite faithful to the rules of the traditional zombie film, which was really cool to see.  They walk, rather than run, they subconsciously do the things they remember doing when they were alive, and you've got to shoot them in the head to kill them.
 
There are even a couple really clever additions to the zombie mythos that I really dug.  For one, we find out that the reason zombies eat brains, at least in the world this movie inhabits, is because by eating a human's brains, they actually absorb the memories and feelings of that person.  Eating brains makes them feel alive, which makes total sense, if ya think about it.

And then there's the 'Bonies', who are zombies who have completely lost any and all shreds of humanity, and have devolved into monstrous skeleton creatures.  The Bonies are the adversaries of not only the humans, but even of the standard zombies.  They're brought to life mostly through CGI, but they look damn good, I must say.
 
So I've gotta give the movie props for not only sticking to the basic Romero rules, so to speak, but also adding some new flavor to the mix.  Gasp, a zombie movie that actually does something new and different.  Been a while since we've seen that, am I right?!
 
As for the overall message of the film, and what happens in the latter portions of it, I think that's where a lot of diehard zombie fans are going to be turned off.  I won't spoil anything (even though a lot was spoiled in the trailers), but just try and go into the movie with an open mind, knowing that this isn't your typical zombie movie.  Again, the zombies more than anything are being used here to represent us and our society, so try not to get angry at the movie for daring to be different, and representing your beloved zombies in a way that you probably don't care to see them represented.  Get over it.

Unfortunately, I know that many horror fans aren't going to be able to do that, as is evidenced by the fact that many people are already hating on this movie, before even seeing it for themselves.  I've seen a lot of people ranting about the lameness of this being a zombie love story, and the idea of zombies being humanized, which is kind of funny because we've never had a problem with those things in the past.  Horror fans are funny that way, sometimes.
 
Remember Shaun of the Dead, that zombie movie that every zombie fan ranks in their top 10 favorite zombie movies of all time?  It was a zom-rom-com, just like Warm Bodies is.  Oh and as for the whole humanizing thing, need I again point out that the best zombie movies ever made, the ones made by Romero, traveled down the very same path?  So if Warm Bodies is "gay" for being a love story about humanized zombies, then perhaps you should rip that Shaun of the Dead poster off your wall and thrown your Bub action figure in the trash.  Just sayin'...

This zombified re-telling of Romeo & Juliet (which I guess makes it more like Romero & Juliet, eh?), is certainly not for everyone, nor would I expect most diehard fans of zombie movies to be all that into it (though I challenge you to not smile at the reference to Fulci's Zombi!).  All I ask is that you go into it with an open mind, and without pre-judgements or silly hatreds, simply because it's something different.  I mean, really.  Isn't something different precisely what the zombie movie was in desperate need of, at this point?

Twilight with zombies, this movie is not.  I promise.  Just don't go into it expecting a straight up horror flick, either.  Give it a chance.  You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it.  
 
I personally found it to be the most refreshing and entertaining zombie movie since 2009's Zombieland, and I'm honestly very surprised that I feel that way about it.  Goes to show that ya really can't ever judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a movie by its trailer.
 
Levine is four for four, in my book.  Here's to hoping this does well enough at the box office that someone finally decides to pick up Mandy Lane for US distribution!

3 comments:

eddie lydecker said...

Hey Johnny, all these other different kinds of zombie movies are fine by me, as long as everybody always remembers that George A. Romero is God. Other zombie fads may come and go but in my book George A. Romero will always be the supreme ruler of the universe.

Warren said...

glad to hear you enjoyed the flick, man ! I have yet to see it [hopefully this week?] cause of school/work. I'll be sure to do a review on it as well. :) hope you and the wife are doing good!

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Barry Goodall said...

actually really enjoyed this movie and agreed it was a slow emotional build as you became attached to the characters. But it did get a bit dusty in the theater towards the end for me.