Friday, February 1, 2013

Better Than Twilight: Warm Bodies

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

When I first heard about Warm Bodies, and saw the trailer, I immediately joked it was Twilight with zombies, something akin to the SNL short about Twilight with Frankenstein monsters. And that's not too far from the truth.

It's obvious this movie (and the book it was based on) exists because of the popularity of Twilight, a series I personally find reprehensible because of the message it's sending to teenage girls, namely, it's OK if you're boyfriend has a temper he can't control when he's around you, and could land you dead at any moment, because if he loves you that'll never really happen!

Granted, Warm Bodies could be viewed as having a few of those elements as well (undead boy who loves/also wants to eat living girl). But we're dealing with zombies here, and the notion that a girl could fall in love with a rotting, brain-eating zombie is a pretty silly one, even in the realm of fantasy. Which is why it's a good thing Warm Bodies is a comedy. And a pretty good one at that.

Nicholas Holt, (who I will never truly believe was once the goofy-looking kid in About a Boy), stars as the zombie-in-love. He's a literal slacker in a red hoodie, who can't remember his name past it's first initial, R. He spends his undead days shuffling through an airport, occasionally interacting with a fellow zombie, (Rob Corddry), who he deems his best friend, despite the fact that they can't do much more than grunt at each other.

But we can hear R, as his internal thoughts serve as the film's narration, and it's through these thoughts that we find out he's pretty much your average young man: concerned about his future; worried if he's coming across as creepy; wanting to make a better impression by having better posture, but really unable to just stand up straight; tongue-tied around girls. The film's narrated opening moments are terrific.

Of course, he IS a zombie, and as tends to be the case with zombies, he's got an insatiable hunger that can only be fulfilled by eating anything living, preferably human. He hates that he has to do this, but a guy's gotta eat.

During a food run/rampage, R sees and instantly falls in love with the gun-wielding Julie, (Teresa Palmer), saves her from his fellow zombies by smearing her with smelly zombie juice, and takes her back to his home, a jumbo jet filled with mementos of a past life amongst the living.

At first terrified, Julie eventually begins to realize R is not like other zombies, and the inevitable romance blossoms. To say the film is influenced by Twilight is true, but an even bigger debt is owed to Romeo and Juliet, the Shakespeare play at the heart of almost any story of star-crossed lovers. And in this case, it's not exactly subtle, from the names (R and Julie!), to a disapproving father, (John Malcovich, who is also the leader of the living), and a scene that, yes, actually takes place on a balcony.

Despite some of the film's predictability, it has a charm that won me over. Sure, the ultimate resolution is pretty hokey (love, you see, can cure a lot of things), and the "Bonies"--zombies that are reduced to nothing but angry, hungry skin and bone creatures--are kind of a boring enemy, and, thanks to some pretty weak CGI, not very scary. But as a metaphor for angst-filled, Goth-tinged young love, it works far better than Bella and her abusive boyfriend.

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