Saturday 9 February 2013
Twilight of the dead: "Warm Bodies"
The gag underpinning the horror-themed romcom Warm Bodies is that we're all zombies now: soulless shufflers just waiting for the one thing that might kickstart our hearts and set us to dreaming again. Our narrator, R (Nicholas Hoult), actually hails from the ranks of the undead, dragging himself listlessly around an airport abandoned in the wake of a global pandemic he can't think to explain. From his narration, and his choice of location, we gather R is longing to make a connection of some kind: "It must have been so much better when everyone just hung out together," he ventures, even as a flashback reveals the airport as it was before the fall, full of stressed commuters tapping away solicitudinously at their smartphones.
Warm Bodies hails from Summit Entertainment, the mini-studio behind the Twilight saga, and in many ways this is a canny teen-screen placeholder, intended to kill some of the time between Breaking Dawn Part 2 and the next instalment of The Hunger Games. As in the latter franchise, a hip young human taskforce is assembled, here with the aim of picking the zombies off one by one. R takes a shine to one of its members, the Katniss-y crackshot Julie (Teresa Palmer, essentially a blonde Kristen Stewart), during one raid, and their courtship initially follows an unusual path, with R eating Julie's boyfriend's brains to get closer to her. As the boyfriend is played by arch screen stoner Dave Franco, it's something of a surprise just how many memories are left to be consumed, but this development eventually gets us to a familiar place: Julie turns out to be the daughter of the humans' gung-ho leader (John Malkovich, adding to the fun), just to complicate matters further. How very Tromeo and Juliet.
The writer-director Jonathan Levine's previous pictures The Wackness and 50/50 wound up taking the easy route through adolescence and cancer respectively; Warm Bodies, similarly, is easily pitched, greenlit, written and watched, and it's no surprise that it's wound up becoming Levine's biggest hit to date in the U.S. There's some especially facile business involving R's vinyl record hoard (which, from the opening strains of John Waite's one-hit wonder "Missing You", marks him down as among the most sensitive and discerning of flesh eaters) and, later, a Polaroid camera (because, as Julie says, "it's important to preserve memories"). It can't go full-on Fulci, because it has its eye on teenage pocket money, and the satiric gags of a Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland - films in which zombification told us something about who we are and how we live - would appear to be largely beyond Levine; the closest he gets is a hamfisted insert of R reading a magazine with Kim Kardashian prominently displayed on the cover BECAUSE HE'S A MINDLESS ZOMBIE, GEDDIT.
What the film eventually settles for is a mild, appreciable daftness. R coaches his new love as to how undead she should appear in order to outshuffle his peers; he stumbles over his words on their impromptu first date, as his narration convulses with embarrassment ("I want to die all over again"); there's even the threat, late on, of a zombie makeover montage. Levine at least knows how to cast: years of practice on TV's Skins have left Hoult particularly well-suited to barely sentient shrugging - oh yeah, I went there - but Levine has also coaxed out the single best performance Rob Corddry has given beyond the confines of The Daily Show, and Damsels in Distress's Analeigh Tipton has a couple of funny moments as Julie's sceptical best friend. The Twilight movies played this sort of material dead straight, the better to instill grand, till-ringing obsession in all those they touched; one suspects Warm Bodies is rather more likely to be forgotten about by the time the target audience returns to school on Monday morning, but it's a reasonably good time while it lasts.
Warm Bodies is in cinemas nationwide.