Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: "Warm Bodies"

What a strange, plucky, offbeat little movie “Warm Bodies” is. It’s a romantic-comedy/horror film that’s by parts scary, goofy and touching. It’s a delightful cinematic experience, but one where you’re often not sure if you should be laughing or not.

Its charm lies in that moment in between.

It’s about a romance between a zombie and a human girl – a description that may be enough to turn off half those reading this, and a goodly chunk of the film’s potential audience. You’re probably envisioning one of two things: a silly romp a la “Teen Wolf,” or a frightfest featuring lots of gooey gore.

Neither sums up the unexpected appeal of this movie written and directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”), based on the book by Isaac Marion.

It’s definitely in the ironic horror comedy mode -- think "Shaun of the Dead" -- poking fun at the conventions of the zombie genre while stealthily embracing them. R, the undead protagonist played by Nicholas Hoult, narrates about his existence shambling around the airport, bumping into other zombies and occasionally setting off in packs to hunt human flesh.

“God, we move slow,” he complains of their deliberate, blundering gait.

Like all his brethren, R (he can’t remember the rest of his name) is compelled to feast on living people, but he’s conflicted about it. The brain is the best part, he confides, because it grants them visions of their victim’s life – which is the closest thing to feeling alive they are allowed.

But then something unexpected happens. R captures Julie (Teresa Palmer) during a raid and sneaks her back to his hideaway aboard an abandoned jetliner. She’s terrified, but eventually intrigued by how this kindly “corpse” – the survivors' term for zombies – differs from all the others.

With pale flesh, a few handsomely-placed scars and icewater-blue eyes, Hoult makes for the dreamiest undead suitor this side of “Twilight.” At first only able to speak a word or two, R slowly regains his communicative abilities. Julie, once assured that she’s not just going to be a delayed snack, is intrigued by R’s love of music -- vinyl only, natch – and collection of baubles.

Like Romeo and Juliet, their budding romance does not go over very well with either of their communities. R’s best buddy M (Rob Corddry) and a few others are willing to look the other way, but the fearsome “bonies” are not. These are hardcore zombies who have deliberately stripped all the flesh off their bodies.

Turns out Julie’s father (John Malkovich) is the leader of the human enclave, which hides behind its massive walls, counting the days until extinction. Dear old dad is the sort who shoots first and asks questions later, especially when he finally gets introduced to R. But see it from his side – would you rather your daughter’s new boyfriend lack good manners or a pulse?

Levine isn’t afraid to tickle away at the funny bone. One scene has Julie receiving relationship advice from her best friend (Analeigh Tipton): “I know it’s hard to find a good guy since this whole apocalypse thing, but…”

And yet what really makes this movie sing is how warm and pleasing it is. Once you get past that whole dead/alive thing, it boils down to a story about two people connecting in a real way, despite their nominal hunter/prey relationship.

Funny, scary, sad and joyful, “Warm Bodies” is the most heartwarming zombie flick ever.

3 stars out of four

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