Thursday, June 27, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #27: WARM BODIES (2013)

The Story: "There are a lot of ways of getting to know a girl.  Eating her boyfriend's brains is an unorthodox method, I know..."

Expectations: I was prepared to hate this movie.  The term "zomromcom" doesn't really sit well with me, and I had it in my head that this was going to be the TWILIGHT of zombie movies.  I acknowledge that zombies have become so thoroughly mainstream that it's almost impossible to make them scary anymore -- SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND sealed the deal on that -- but that doesn't mean I want filmmakers to stop trying.  I'm curious about WORLD WAR Z because from what I can tell the filmmakers have tried to reinvent the monster for jaded audiences, turning "fast zombies" into a force of nature -- and thereby bringing the zombie back to its thematic roots in the George Romero movies.  (I can't actually say how good the movie is because I haven't seen it yet, but I'm intrigued by the idea.)  I should add that I'm not opposed to zombie comedies.  I loved SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND, and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and RE-ANIMATOR before them.  But there's something about a romantic comedy with zombies that seems lazy to me. 

On the other hand, WARM BODIES is a zombie movie that my wife actually wanted to watch.  So there's that.

Reaction: This movie turned out to be interesting for the same reason that WORLD WAR Z interests me, and it succeeds for one of the main reasons that SHAUN OF THE DEAD succeeds: In its own way, WARM BODIES is a zombie movie for zombie purists.  That may sound strange, because the movie turns George Romero's braindead-by-definition monsters into thinking, feeling, even talking creatures....  but anyone who remembers DAY OF THE DEAD and LAND OF THE DEAD knows that this is sort of where Romero's long-term vision was headed anyway.

The initial theme that distinguished NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD -- a film that's not so much about zombies as about how human beings collectively respond to zombies -- is being played out here.  Over the years, Romero has talked about his Dead movies in decidedly simplistic terms.  Of the zombies, he says, "We're them and they're us."  In other words: If a bunch of braindead corpses can get along and work together, why can't we?  In DAY OF THE DEAD, he shows that zombies can learn and emote.  In LAND OF THE DEAD, he proposes a kind of "live and let live" agreement between humans and zombies. 

WARM BODIES takes these ideas a step further, suggesting that "un-death" can actually be reversed by love.  On the surface, it's a silly idea.  So are zombies, I guess.  But, in a metaphorical sense, it works.  Zombies have become the movie monster of the 21st century because they are a recognizable metaphor for the dehumanizing effects of a culture that values material wealth over compassion.  WARM BODIES, like Romero's films, proposes an "exhumation."  There's a lesson to be learned, and a better state of existence to be earned.

I don't mean to get too heavy.  This is after all a comedy, and not without its flaws.  Admittedly, the film is annoyingly cute at times (I have mixed feelings about the voiceover, and the Romeo and Juliet connection is unnecessary), and the internal logic is just plain lazy.  Example: The lead zombie gets emotional again because he eats someone's brains.... but why doesn't this happen to all brain-eating zombies?  His human lover is able to trick the zombies into believing that she's already dead by doing the cliched zombie shuffle... but the filmmaker has clearly established that zombies can smell the living, so why can't they smell her?  (She solves this by smearing a bit of dead blood on her face... but that's a half-assed answer.)  And then there's the all-too-convenient distinction between zombies that are "too far gone" ("Bonies") and the human-ish zombies that can still be redeemed....

Clearly, I'm still thinking about this too much.  This is not a movie that's meant for detailed analysis.  I suppose I should just be happy that it's not completely braindead.  It develops an interesting theme, and it's genuinely fun.  I'll consider that a win.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: I guess, the slurping brain-eating sounds.... if that sort of thing bothers you....


  1. My kids gave me this one for Father's Day. I got to tee it up, and soon.

    1. Gotta say: Your kids have great taste in gifts. Let me know what you think of this one...

  2. Good review Joe. Sweet, kind, romantic, and character-driven, I was surprised by how much I liked this one but I guess it’s the zombie-craze that really got me.