Warm Bodies REVIEW

Warm Bodies film review: Love is… not eating your brain

“You may be dead, but that’s still sexual harrassment.”

Release Date: 8 February 2013
12A | 98 minutes
Distributor: Entertainment One
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, Analeigh Tipton, John Malkovich

Last year, we got Umbrella zombies, TV zombies, and even stopmotion zombies. Now 2013 gives us Warm Bodies, a zombie rom-com that wants us to care about a dead guy called R (Nicholas Hoult), who stumbles back into his humanity through the love of a human named Julie (Teresa Palmer).

It sounds like the kind of tween tripe that should kill the undead genre’s cool factor forever, but surprise, surprise: it’s not an abysmal Twilight-esque nightmare. It’s sweet, at times perfectly droll, but ultimately very uneven.

Adapted by director Jonathan Levine (50/50) from Isaac Marion’s compelling novel of the same name, Warm Bodies the movie manages to capture the first-person wit of the book quite neatly, as Hoult gamely ambles about an undead-infested airport pithily sharing his ennui about not being able to connect anymore because… well, he’s dead.

R only gets his zombie groove back when he and his pack feed on human brains. It’s during that crunch-and-munch time that R experiences a euphoric, crack-like hit of the memories and emotions of his victim. It’s one of the cleverest ideas of the book, but sadly doesn’t have the resonance it should here, as Levine treats it more like a cutesy visual gag.

After R feasts on Perry Kelvin (Dave Franco) he lays eyes on Julie, Kelvin’s cornered ex, and gets a literal thump in his heart, and the urge to protect her instead of eviscerate her, covering her scent with Perry goo and whisking her away to his airplane domicile. Palmer does a great job portraying Julie’s credible feelings of horror, which shift to intrigue when R doesn’t kill her, haltingly speaks to her and starts playing sweet tunes on his record player.

Wait… what? Yeah, it sounds ridiculous but Hoult and Palmer play their characters’ hesitant, mutual curiosity well, achieving the tricky balance between comedy and chemistry. The problem is that no matter how dreamy R’s baby blues are, he’s still a corpse. Watching the two inch towards a romance creates an icky sensation that’s hard to overcome.

Ultimately, R’s goal becomes keeping Julie safe from the evil “Boneys” that represent the last, hopeless stage of zombieism. Unfortunately, they’re a design dud, muddy and so obviously computerised that they lack the visceral punch needed to generate real scares.

The last act finds Julie back behind the walled stadium city that is her home, where John Malkovich gives a pleasingly pragmatic and confused performance as her father, General Grigio. The weirdly staged and oddly paced battle that follows sadly reveals Levine’s weakness at directing action.

At the very end, the film circles back to an emotional resolution that manages to match the book’s graceful end note, and finally touches on its depth. But it’s all a little too late.

Tara Bennett twitter.com/TaraDBennett

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