‘Warm Bodies’ is an Unexpectedly Surprising Take on the Tired Zombie Genre

January and February are a dumping ground and the zombie genre is getting very played out.  Sure, I watch The Walking Deadevery week and love zombie movies, but it’s getting to the point that it seems like only so many things can be done with a bunch of sometimes slow, sometimes running rotting cannibals and desperate group of survivors.

I suppose that’s why Warm Bodies is such a surprise… it’s unexpected in its own goodness.  To be honest, I was kind of expecting a movie along the lines of Idle Hands or something like that, instead, I got a take on the zombie genre that was refreshing and original and a story that felt genuine and heartfelt.

I would chalk this up to low expectations, but that would only detract away from the great movie that Warm Bodies actually is and I wouldn’t do that to this movie.  Not for all the brains in China.

Taking the point of view of a zombie with a human inner monologue, Warm Bodies is a story about disconnect and apathy disguised as a movie about dead people rising and eating everyone.  When a zombie with no name (because he can’t remember) becomes unexpectedly interested in a survivor, he takes it upon himself to protect her from the rest of his kin.

It’s an awkward type of relationship… he’s desperately trying to be nice to her and she’s suspicious, thinking that she’s going to become a midnight snack.  Oh, there’s also the problem that he ate her former boyfriend too and you know that’s going to cause some friction.

Warm Bodies isn’t being done any favors by this summary, I know, but that is the bare bones of the story.  It’s Beauty and the Beast meets Romeo and Juliet meets Dawn of the Dead.  It shouldn’t work, but it does and it does so admirably.

It could be that, in a story that seems to cry for slapstick and wiener jokes, Warm Bodies is surprisingly reserved.  I was expecting at least one quip about, “Oh, you want a zombie boyfriend?  What if his thing falls off?” but even that easy joke is left out.  It even makes a mockery of some of the easy conventions — like when “Pretty Woman” starts to play during a makeover scene.  One of the characters says to another at the radio, “Will you shut that off?”

“What?” she responds, “I thought it would be funny!” 

That’s one thing I loved about this movie: The clichés that you are expecting never materialize. The easy jokes, the expected turns with the militaristic characters, the hard revelations coming to light at inopportune times… they just don’t happen!  Instead, everything is handled realistically and organically.  Characters behave like people should, they talk like people should… you get a real sense that these are actual people overcoming actual problems and not people in a movie bowing to bad writing and tired convention.

All of that is fine and good, but the underlying metaphor of Warm Bodies is too good to ignore — it’s all about the walls of disconnect that we throw up around us.  We have characters who find themselves isolated, dehumanized, and without hope (on the edge of something worse, if you will) becoming infected with hope — the anti-zombie plague.  As I said, this is probably one of the most unexpectedly fresh and original takes on the entire undead genre in a very long time.

Nicholas Holt is terrific as R, the zombie in question.  This young man manages to carry a movie with only a few grunts and an internal monologue for longer than most could.  I really hope we see more of this kid and I hope he manages to stay away from the things you usually see one of those pretty boy types get saddled with.  Talent like his should not be wasted on it.

So, there you go… Warm Bodies is unexpectedly great, unexpectedly deep, and unexpectedly human.  It’s the kind of thing you usually don’t get from a zombie movies, but if there’s anything I did learn from this particular film, it’s that it’s more entertaining to get the unexpected.  While I wouldn’t call Warm Bodies a game-changer for zombie movies, it’s definitely something new and something different from the same old same old and I love it for it.

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