I had resigned myself to merely being entertained by lights on a screen when I sat down to view Warm Bodies, the new film directed by Jonathan Levine, shot almost entirely in an unrecognizable Montreal. By the end of the viewing, I was moderately tickled by a film where comedy meshes with zombiism in a not unknown sub-genre given several light comedy treatments over the last few years, Sean of the Living Dead and Zombieland come to mind. Arguably, the zombie genre is horror-comedy by definition with a dash of social commentary as developed decades ago by George A. Romero in The Night of the Living Dead and subsequent efforts.
Our nod to the classics in Warm Bodies comes in the form of a dilapidated airport habitat for our zombie protagonists, an homage to Romero’s shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead, where they spend the days staggering aimlessly between gates and lounges while being repeatedly screened by zombie security in a pantomime reminiscent of my recent trip to Pearson. The internal dialogue of our main protagonist, R, a teenage-ish slacker zombie played by Nicholas Hoult questioning his own taste for brains, seems incongruous at first but a refreshing plot device given that the story unfolds from the zombie perspective, a welcome innovation in a genre heavily mined for nuance as it is. However, this is probably a tangent that can only be exploited one time for kicks before it gets too stale to rehash.
Even more obtusely, our lead zombie develops a human love interest, Julie, played by Teresa Palmer, who after some awkward encounters takes a shining to Hoult’s stumblingly unromantic zombie. Ultimately advocating for some weird form of human-zombie alliance, Palmer’s Julie butts up against her militaristic and death-to-zombies obsessed father played by a noticeably uncomfortable John Malkovich, taking a role he clearly doesn’t relish. Perhaps the Broadway gigs haven’t been paying the bills for a tired Malkovich. Some of the best laughs are provided by Rob Corddy of independent comedy fame, playing Hoult’s zombie buddy, who manages to develop a character despite the limitations imposed by a dialogue punctuated by grunts, slurred exclamations, zombie grimaces, and twists of the neck more appropriate to chiropractic care or exorcism.
Notwithstanding the abysmally wooden acting provided by Hoult, who appears to be somehow perfectly suited to even less expressive efforts and the excessively woolly mop and wavering talent of Palmer, the film manages to coax chuckles at relatively regular intervals. The absurdity of the setup and the slow dialogue fill the empty expanses of plot rather crudely where it seems that the simple idea of the zombie-human love affair dreamt up by writer Isaac Marion in the book of the same name has difficulty finding lasting legs on the big screen. Don’t expect too many more self-introspective love-torn zombie celluloid making theatres any time soon. The screen writers have however somewhat successfully managed to mine the new but rapidly aging genre redux for seemingly every ounce of humour available. The box office has already rewarded their efforts with astronomical Hollywood-style revenues to the doubtless delight of production and distribution company shareholders. If you’re looking for something mindless, literally, and have the patience to sit through 98 minutes with a giggle, groan, or guffaw every two minutes or so, this is the movie for you. I give this a solid three cadavers out of five.