Warm Bodies: a 2013 gem you may have missed

Feature Juliette Harrisson 7 Jan 2014 - 06:38

Starring Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, one-of-a-kind rom-zom-com Warm Bodies was one of 2013's hidden gems, Juliette writes...

Warm Bodies is a difficult movie to sell to people. It’s a zombie movie, but it’s not a horror movie. It’s not especially scary and the violence is, by zombie movie standards, minimal. It’s a romance, but a romance in which the hero eats the brains of the heroine’s friends. It’s hilarious, but it’s not a straight comedy.

What Warm Bodies really is, is a fairytale. It’s the story of a beast who kidnaps and falls in love with a beautiful princess (the daughter of the human settlement’s leader) and who must fight monsters who want to kill and eat her. Like all the best fairytales, it’s extremely dark at its centre but comes out of that darkness to a gloriously warm and fuzzy ending.

The movie is built on a fantastic performance from Nicholas Hoult as R the zombie. It’s relatively easy to make a vampire sexy; all you need is some pale make-up and they’re supposed to be attractive anyway. It’s generally pretty easy to make a werewolf sexy as well, by simply showing them in their human form most of the time. Even ghosts can be sexy, in a translucent sort of way.

But to play a zombie that’s both recognisably a zombie and attractive – not just physically attractive (varying levels of make-up help with that) but to come across as a character other characters want to be around – is a considerable challenge, and the fact that the movie pulls it off is a testament to both Hoult and the make-up department. Even more importantly, R is not just tortured, but seriously funny. The combination of R’s internal monologue (‘don’t be creepy, don’t be creepy’) with Hoult’s not quite leering but not quite polite stares at Julie is both funny and strangely endearing. 

Humour is one of Warm Bodies’ strongest assets. Much of it comes from R’s voiced-over thoughts, and the movie establishes its wry tone straight away with his long introductory inner monologue (‘my hoodie would suggest I was unemployed’). The living characters have less opportunity to be funny, but there’s a warm humour to some of Julie and Nora’s conversations that reassures us that the world is worth saving. And then there are the tiny little touches that go unnoticed by most but bring a smile to the faces of those who catch them, like the still-playing public announcement in the abandoned airport that fans of Airplane! will surely recognise.

The other ace up the film’s sleeve is its soundtrack. Alongside the original score is an evocative collection of songs that perfectly capture the slightly eerie but romantic tone. Some of the soundtrack choices might be a bit obvious (Sitting In Limbo springs to mind) but they work. Even R’s fondness for vinyl, which at this point is becoming something of a romantic comedy cliché, is put to good use as he responds to a conversation that would be a difficult one even if he could say more than one word at a time with the perfect musical choice of Shelter From The Storm.

The film is built on well-worn themes that are familiar but effective. The names alone (R, Julie, Nora the nurse, M), not to mention the balcony scene, are a clue to the writer’s desire to tell a story of love across the barricades. Then there’s the guy who’s lost and confused about what to do with his life, who feels like he’s weird and doesn’t understand why he doesn’t fit in, and there are the people who’ve forgotten how to connect with others and who shuffle through life without feeling anything until someone brings them out of it. There’s also a father who wants to build a wall around his daughter to protect her but doesn’t understand how to really live (played by the ever-reliable John Malkovich). They may be old stories, but they’re well told. 

The film rests on Teresa Palmer’s shoulders as Julie almost as much as Nicholas Hoult’s as R. On a Young Adult Literary Heroine scale of Bella Swan to Katniss Everdeen, Julie is definitely nearer Katniss’ end, proving herself to be pretty handy with a firearm against a zombie hoard. She’s a more optimistic character though, rebelling against the idea that the world can never get better, and her determination to keep hoping and keep looking for another way drives the plot as much as R’s openness to new ideas and desperation to become something more. The film’s female characters are few in number, but they feel real enough and Palmer is a sufficiently likeable presence that the audience can believe she’s the sort of person to bring a zombie out of his stupor.

This is not a movie for the overly cynical. If you prefer your apocalypses dark and gritty and full of demonstrations of humankind’s inhumanity to humankind, this is not the film for you. On the other hand, if you are liable to be discombobulated by a romantic lead whose preferred breakfast comes with a side of human brain, you probably shouldn’t see it either. But if you’ve ever enjoyed a Grimm fairy tale, or a Dickensian ghost story, or It’s A Wonderful Life, or any fable that blends the macabre with the borderline cheesy, you would do well to seek out this little-seen gem as soon as possible.

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I almost dismissed this as a Twilight-for-zombies, I'm glad I didn't.

I tried to watch it but had to stop after 20 minutes.

Guess I'll never know.

I couldn't even finish the trailer..

Hmmmmm, I really tried to like it, but it was so foreseeable. And all the good music seemed to be just there to built up emotions because the story was too thin to do so. And then there were all these Zombie drives a car, Zombie gets a makeover etc. scenes that were so clearly tied in just for the sake of it.

And all the logical mistakes and the bad CGI skeletons were too much to swallow in my book.

We watched it recently as a double feature with Shaun of the Dead, which is clearly the best ZomRomCom and Warm Bodies didn't even come close. I liked Cockneys vs. Zombies better. But I have to say, all the girls liked it... ;)

Cockneys Vs Zombies... now THERE was a funny Zombie movie.

I was cracking up through out it.

Den of Geek, is it too late to do a '2012 Gem You May Have Missed...' on Cockneys Vs Zombies?

Imagine a post-apocalyptic indie 'Twilight' for guys - or "Romero & Juliet"...?

Told primarily from a Zombie's point of view, this takes elements from various sources of Zombie lore (such as Land of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, I Am Legend, The Walking Dead, The Return of the Living Dead) but rearranges them into it's own personal mythology to tell a romantic story. I especially liked it's exploration of Zombie behaviour, why they eat brains and how one might fall in love... 8/10.

Aside from being very enjoyable, I remember this film for featuring one of the funniest uses of that 'one use of strong language' that 12A films so often employ.

Is it April 1st or something? Warm Bodies is exactly what is wrong with zombie movies and horror in general. I sat through this film, being a zombie fan, only to have my beloved genre go all Twilight on me. It was agony! Horror generally is in a bad depression at the moment, but this is coming from someone who grew up through the golden age of horror in the 80s so I accept I might be a bit cynical. But this, like so many "horror" films lately, continue to reduce horror to fairytale levels of insane family fun and it leaves some of us "proper" fans feeling colder than the undead.

Ha, funny that this was never intended to be a horror movie, a point which clearly flew over your head. Just because it featured a conventional horror plot point does not mean it'll be that genre. If a rom-com had a copper as one of the characters, you wouldn't be lamenting the lack of action and car chases, would you? Genres, now more than ever, are fluid. Stop being such a snob and deal with it.

I wanted to see this movie the minute I saw the trailer, and found it to be very sweet (though I think I'm about 20 years away from being the target audience).

I agree, it's not horror - I love horror, this just isn't it. I also don't have a lot "invested" in zombies, if you know what I mean: I've got no problem seeing them fiddled with, as there's no mystique to wreck.

The point I was trying to make (perhaps badly) is that this mainstream "Starbucking" of genres is hard to accept for those of us who loved the purity of genre. Yes genre is a more fluid concept these days but I believe it is to the detriment of more fundamental ideas. My point being, zombies and vampires were conceived to be scary, and were scary for many years. Now they're teenage romantics with about as much fright power as My Little Pony. I lament the loss of power of all these once-scary nightmares and I believe many others do too. These days, the only way horror movies can shock us is to show scenes of grotesque torture-porn and so on. Low grade stuff. The likes of zombies, vampires, Freddy and Jason, etc are all jokes now and I blame this type of mainstream fairytale movie and the rise and rise of TV shows. Remember when Ridley Scott said that he didn't want to do Aliens any more because they were not scary any more and were now like Disney aliens? That's exactly it. So is Scott a snob too or is he also lamenting the loss of something?

I agree with everything you said, but I loved this movie. It was predictable, but I feel like it's Romeo and Juliet with zombies. It's hard to make a story that's been told over and over and over unpredictable and I like the unusual take on the old story. And while the logical mistakes were many and varied, it's a movie where a zombie falls in love with a human so logic went on vacation as soon as I pushed play. I found R to be sweet (not until after he stopped eating people of course) and I can't get the the songs out of my head.

The skeletons however were just bad.

I'm embarrassed for the people who claim to be horror fans, only to then turn on films like this for doing exactly what all the great horror films do.
George Romero used zombies to explore humanity and social issues, because he realised they were a perfect metaphor for the disenfranchised, lost and the outsiders and Warm Bodies does this too, albeit in a gentler way.
This is actually a lovely little film about waking up and reconnecting with a life and works flawlessly with the zombie myth, actually finding some elegant answers to questions you never thought to ask (Why do they eat brains? What happens if they don't?).
If you've dismissed this because you thought it's some Twilight nonsense, that's your loss.

I cou-

I almost didn't dismiss it. Now I wish I had not'nt've done that.

A good movie but I thought it was a bit of a shame that they largely cut the scenes from the book where R has multiple conversations with another character that could have been either from the afterlife or R's own subconscious, it was deliberately left ambiguous. Instead it was all just rolled into one truncated and ambiguous dream sequence. I'd definitely recommend looking up the book.

IF you want a really god horror, watch 'You're Next'. You can get it on kickasstorrents. It has the bonus that the protagonist is that hot, athletic bird who played Cassie in Home and Away.

Loved this film. Thought it was going to be a silly, throwaway comedy riding on the coattails of The Walking Dead meets Twilight, but it was so much more than that. An emotionally-involving, ultra-entertaining film.

Good for you, mate.

But did you actually read Romeo & Juliet?
For a very short period of time I thought it
should remind everyone of that timeless
story (the balcon scene), but then I thought
of the most predictable ending Hollywood could
come up with. And then it ended like that.
If they would've sticked to the original ending, okay!
But then they changed it for the dumbed-down Twilight
crowd, so, please, don't compare it to Romeo & Juliet.

Chick flick. That is all.

I absolutely adore Shaun of the Dead but I always hated the way that it called itself a RomZomCom. It's always going to be a zombie comedy first, with elements of romance. Perhaps it's because I don't want a fantastic film to be dragged down by associating itself with a genre that's been responsible for a LOT of rubbish and all of the tropes that come with it.

I agree!

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