14 February 2013

Warm Bodies Review

When it comes to the zombie apocalypse, romance is hardly on the cards. Yeah, you can meet someone nice, and yeah, you'll have a whale of a time trying to survive, but social connections formed in apocalyptic scenarios are invariably based on desperation and little else, bringing together folk who might otherwise have never interacted. The genre - for all its horror trappings - feeds off of these mismatches in unforgiving circumstances to create engaging human drama. The zombies are set dressing - horrible, flesh eating set dressing, yes, but set dressing nonetheless. They're not meant to be engaged with. Are they?

Imagine, if you will, my conjecture being vocalised in an abandoned bar to you, my fellow survivor. Suddenly, the door crashes in, and in shambles a zombie, a sticker with 'Hi! My name is Warm Bodies!' on its chest. But instead of trying to open our skulls like tinned chilli, he takes a seat, and tries to answer that question. Sums up the movie, really.

Back to reality, with its male romantic lead a zombie, it's a clear attempt to take a fresh approach on no less then two genres. The mythology has obviously been adapted accordingly - one can hardly have a romance without a spot of spurning your brethren in its pursuit - and here, they're divided into two subsets. The first are the walking social commentaries featured in Romero's films: retaining some sense of who they were, and when not feasting on cerebellum, they're emptily going through the motions of a life half-remembered. Then there's the 'bonies', eyeless bags of bone and sinew, beyond saving and devouring anything with a heartbeat.

It's an interesting play from the writers, and from a script point of view, it's difficult to fault beyond proceeding exactly as you might expect it to. So much so that I'm skipping sumarising the plot as a challenge to any reading this! This isn't restricted to the narrative either, with a few of the jokes only really funny because they may have crossed your mind when you were watching the same situation played straight elsewhere.

But the laughs are there to be had - several, in fact, and good ones too - with the cast making a decent job of it. Nicholas Hoult and Rob Corddry's comic timing - and that's pretty much all they've got at their disposal here - are the stars of the show, bouncing off each-other and co-star Teresa Palmer enjoyably enough to buoy her enticing but ultimately uninteresting portrayal of The Girl (TM). John Malkovich is on autopilot in his role as the merciless military commander of the survivors - even the addition of Over-Protective Father (TM) hardly challenges him - so if you're hoping for something as fun as his turns in RED or Con Air, you'll need to keep looking. The rest are unremarkable, but never bad.

The almost inevitable let down is in the execution. Whilst it's entirely competent from a technical standpoint, there was an decision made to open it up to the audience that it shares bare plot bones with - human falls in love with supernatural creature, and you can read that however you like. The result, stylistically, is a removal of bite from the human/zombie interaction. It's completely bloodless, and lacks a single proper scare - earning a 12A from the BBFC, the horror tagged as 'moderate'. Seeing as the horror is what would ostensibly be the forbidden aspect of this love story, this in turn undermines the romance, leaving the comedy to do the bulk of the entertaining, and this can't quite fill the two gaps. It's a story that, had they made the horror aspects horrifying, could have been an unexpected delight.

Furthermore, the lack of horror is a curious decision insofar as it's a clear pastiche of the supernatural romance - taken to a logical extreme, as pastiches invariably are. To open it up to the audience you're winkingly ripping into, and completely de-clawing your movie in the process, is bordering on madness.

It's also a touch too long, meandering between plot points without any sense of urgency or threat, and it verges on outstaying its welcome in the flat finale. There's a tight, funny, blooded movie in the vein of Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead to be had from this story, and it's disappointing that this one squanders a good portion of its potential.

Still, the ideas at its core are good, it's at least competently executed, and the comedy does work, even if you're mouthing the punch lines as they're projected. It's a shame the other two aspects of the story are so toothless, caught in a viscous cycle stemming from a business decision. But this is Hollywood, so having your figurative guts ripped out so more people will see you is par for the course. That the carcass is still entirely watchable is a testament both to the strength of the idea, and to the two male leads' zombified chemistry. Not one to rush out and see, but worth a look down the line.

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