Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Warm Bodies (Jonathan Levine) Film Review and Summary

I just caught Warm Bodies today and it was a pretty cool movie (pardon the bad pun, haha). I giggled at the many literary and cultural references and laughed at the self-reflexive, unabashed hilarity. Warm Bodies, based on a novel by Isaac Marion, manages to avoid the pitfalls of most parodies of both films and genres (yes, we know it's a parody of Twilight) and includes the most delightful literary references combined into a successful genre mash-up. It's the movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, only set in the modern day and revolving around another literary couple... I shan't say more yet. I hadn't intended on catching it at first as it seemed quite banal. I was amused by the trailer though, and that's why I decided on Warm Bodies instead of The Croods, which I intend to watch too.

Anyway, on to the meat of the review and a very long summary.

R (Nicholas Hoult) is your typical indie teenage boy who loves to read, plays vinyl records and hoards quirky items in his pad, including an electric guitar. Wait - that's not quite right, let's start over. R is also a zombie who eats human flesh and lives in a 747 during the time of the apocalypse. His best friend is a middle-aged male zombie called M (Rob Corddry) and they shamble all over the place (usually in an airport) and grunt in an attempt at "almost conversation". It's unconventional enough that the protagonist of a zombie film is a zombie, and it's much more unconventional that he's such a likable guy. He could well be the perfect indie boy-next-door, with his tousled hair and hoodie - except he's dead and would eat your brains if he could.

In the beginning of the film we see and hear R grousing about his monotonous existence as a zombie and the limitations of his clumsy body and awkward movements. There are many such comic moments dispersed throughout the film which highlight the conventions of zombie films and ridicules them in a self-conscious manner. Filtered through the perspective of R, a rather honest, self-deprecating fellow, we see the other side of things: the world of the zombies (the "Other") from their perspective. It's not as scary a world as we thought, and the jaunty music accompanying the introduction scenes pegs Warm Bodies firmly as a comedy rather than a horror film.

[ SPOILER ALERT ] - highlight text below to read

While R's life is deeply dissatisfying to him, he ignores his deviant longings for something more and resigns himself to his normal state of existence. One day, R and his friends get hungry and venture out to the city to find, well, warm bodies to satisfy their hunger. They raid a small outpost and begin attacking and devouring the humans, who happen to be Julie (Teresa Palmer), her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and their friends. The humans valiantly defend their outpost, and Julie cuts quite a figure while she's using the machine gun. Unfortunately for Julie, her boyfriend's brains get eaten by R. Fortunately for R, eating Perry's brains gives him Perry's human memories. Something begins to stir in R as long-lost memories and emotions almost bubble over to the surface, and he falls in like with Julie, a girl he now knows vicariously through Perry's memories. The zombies-eating-brains trope is also explained as the only way they could experience/feel something again, as their own memories are lost to numbness. R is rather apologetic as his devours Perry's brains, and his very human impulse to feel something vicariously gained some sympathy from me.

It is this impulse towards humanity that stops R from eating Julie, and he becomes her guardian, saving her from the zombie and skeleton ("Bonies") hordes time and time again. Their romance blossoms slowly as Julie warms up to R's good-natured protection. As unlikely as it sounds, they spend time together going through his records, "talking" (grunting on R's end) and getting to know each other. This part of the movie had "rom-com" written all over it, and was all about removing the barriers (the literal collapse of the wall at the end) to communication and building ties of understanding and trust, not without a wry sense of humour that delighted me to no end. R and Julie's romance also stirred the human impulses of a R's zombie friends, and they begin to feel a change in them as faint memories start to resurface.

The turning point of R's existence was his apology to Julie for Perry's destruction. By inducing him to feel as humans do, he slowly became human. He had his first dream (zombies apparently don't need sleep and hence don't dream), and woke up hopeful... only to find that Julie had escaped back to her home behind the walls of the human stronghold. During this time, the zombie hordes are also attacked by the Bonies, who sensed that these zombies were coming back to life again. Risking all to see Julie and warn her of the Bonies' imminent attack, he slips behind the city's walls and finds her at her balcony. It was at this moment that the "Romeo and Juliet" literary reference hit me, and I was so tickled that I began to laugh. R is introduced to Julie's friend Nora (Annaleigh Tipton) and together they decide to convince Julie's father Grigio (John Malkovich), leader of the resistance, to rehabilitate the other half-cured zombies. Of course, Grigio threatens to kill R in his ignorance. And then, in true Romeo and Juliet style, everyone draws their guns, and R and Julie manage to escape the city to help the other zombies.

The major action sequence came next, with veritable chase scenes between the Bonies and Team R+J, and a final showdown against the Bonies, with the help of the humans who have realised whose side the zombies are on (the humans' side, of course). Chased to the edge of a window by a pack of Bonies, R convinces Julie to take the plunge into a pool of water, symbolising a sort of rebirth. As expected, R resurfaces as human, and he and Julie share their first kiss. With the help of the zombies, the Bonies were defeated completely, and the zombies were finally accepted and rehabilitated into human society.
I loved the final scene when Julie asks R if he could remember his name and he says he can't, but he prefers his new one. It saves the movie from being overly contrived and literarily pretentious, and catapults it into the perfect modern remake of a Romeo and Juliet and Zombies mash up.


Okay that was the terribly long summary (I love the movie and am terrible at summarising). What really struck me was the idea of choice in relation to the idea of being human, which recurred through the movie. The zombies weren't made zombies by choice, but the Bonies were zombies who had chosen to lose all remnants of their humanity and become physical husks of craving. R chose differently from the Bonies; he chose to retain his humanity and began to be cured by emulating the life and interactions of humanity (with Julie). Julie chose to stick by R in the face of risk and danger, and held on to her belief of a cure.

In one of the scenes, Julie says that it was good that R kept trying hard to be cured as trying was a human quality. In this sense, the real monsters aren't the zombie hordes, but the ones who stop trying, symbolised by the Bonies. "Not trying" is akin to apathy and neglect, which sends a strong message - to be human is to make choices. To be human is to accept the responsibility of your decisions and  to "keep trying" to improve yourself and make things better. I think that's quite a profound take-away from a mostly light-hearted and sweet rom-com romp through literary zombie land. I didn't have much that I disliked about the movie as the acting was neither too serious nor too flippant, and the action scenes were good enough for me (that doesn't say much). It also helped that Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer were very easy on the eyes, and Rob Corddry was an adorable sidekick. Warm Bodies, an unconventional treatment of the zombie horror flick, had just the right mix of humour, romance, action and with that dash of ironic self-parody, made it a very enjoyable watch.

I give Warm Bodies 8/10 and recommend everyone to watch it, if only for the sake of seeing a zombie-fied parody of the recent vampire films! (you know which ones I'm talking about)

Rachel loves sharing about the beautiful things in life from different perspectives. She writes on beauty and lifestyle in Cherchez Beauté , and does more abstract stuff on Antelune . When she's not writing, she's playing with her dog Holly, doodling and reading fiction. You can follow her on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram .