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September 19, 2013

Warm Bodies

by Franz Patrick


Warm Bodies (2013)
★ / ★★★★

“Otto; or Up with Dead People,” written and directed by Bruce LaBruce, explores a male zombie slowly coming to life, experiencing feelings and thoughts of what makes someone human. It is smart enough to remain vague until the closing credits. Either Otto is literally dead and is lucky enough to have achieved a second life or he is a figurative zombie all along, eventually jolted into choosing to live more actively by not simply allowing life to happen to him. Though it has its limitations, it shows a depth of potential. I was optimistic that a movie with a similar premise would come along and get more things right.

“Warm Bodies” is not the movie that I am waiting for. Since it lacks a willingness to fully establish and stay within the boundaries of its universe’s rules, everything within the scope of the petri dish comes off silly and, even for a fantasy, unbelievable. If anything can happen at anytime and anywhere like a zombie magically turning human, humans might as well turn into zombies magically–without getting bitten, being infected by zombie blood, or inhaling pathogens in the air. It is not enjoyable because instead of being enveloped in the story, our minds–or at least mine because I like to think about what I am seeing–are too busy asking questions and connecting the dots.

Perhaps there is a reason why zombies do not speak. Not for once did I believe that R (Nicholas Hoult) really is a zombie. Instead, I saw an actor plastered with makeup who is trying really hard to play an undead. It is not Hoult’s fault; he is capable of controlling the emotions on his face–especially his eyes–and body. The problem is the script. It allows him to speak too much while disregarding rules it sets up for itself along the way. Isn’t the nervous narration in his head enough?

R is less like a zombie and more like Tarzan. In earlier scenes, he speaks in one or two words. For example, instead of saying, “I want water because I’m thirsty,” it is likely that he will say, “Water. Thirsty.” As the film goes on, he is able to utter full phrases like “I told you it’s not safe.” The problem is, after we hear him communicate in complete sentences, he reverts to speaking in single words in one scene and then full phrases the next. Sometimes he speaks slowly, other times quickly. The lack of consistency with his language is as irritating and maddening as hearing nails scraping on a chalkboard.

I will not even get into R, who is supposed to be dead, breathing heavily after performing a strenuous activity. In direct contrast with scenes in which he is required to run a good distance, he does not breathe afterwards at all.

The romance between R and Julie (Teresa Palmer), which is the fulcrum of the story, is painful to watch. While the idea of someone who is dead and hungry for fresh brains and someone who is alive falling in love is akin to a shark approaching a person splashing about and the two of them becoming best friends, I was ready to buy into what they have. However, pop songs are often employed to speed things up. When it comes to establishing a romance, taking shortcuts is almost never a good idea.

The screenplay by Jonathan Levine, who also directed the film, exhibits no patience and seems to have no knowledge on how to build a believable friendship, let alone a relationship of a romantic nature. If both R and Julie were living in a world with no zombies, just two souls connecting, I still would not believe what they eventually end up having. They are bland while apart, especially Julie, and deadly dull when together.

The best portion of “Warm Bodies,” based on a novel by Isaac Marion, involves the flashbacks that R experiences after eating the brain of Julie’s boyfriend (Dave Franco). Though it fails from a technical standpoint–if what R is seeing is a memory, he (and we) should be seeing the images through the eyes of the dead boyfriend and not as a third person observer–there is an interesting story, a personal one, embedded in those memories. However, when taken together, it is only about two to three minutes in duration. Finally, Julie’s friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton), does not get enough lines or screen time. Tipton plays Nora as funny, interesting, and full of life–the very qualities that the movie desperately lacks.

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