Review/Essay: Warm Bodies and the case for zombie genre crossovers

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Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton
Rating: 4 and a half out of 5 romantic-while-also-terrifying zombie valentines: brains are red, our skin is blue, we want your brains, so we’re going to bite you! No but seriously, this is one of the more unique (even though it is, technically, Romeo and Juliet with zombies but still come on who even thinks of that! The bard certainly didn’t), cute, fun, and even a little bit pleasantly scary zombie crossover genre films I’ve ever seen!

I have long since been a fan of not only reinventing the zombie genre, a la 28 Days Later, but also of films brave enough to combine genres totally. Shaun of the Dead is a masterpiece and Zombieland a thrill, but the purest form of innovation I had seen was in the form of a little movie called Fido, starring Billy Connolly as a zombie-pet… sort of. It’s complicated, which is to say it’s interesting, which is to say it is a zombie movie unlike any other. I haven’t been able to commend any such innovation again until I watched Warm Bodies tonight on DVD rental. In one sentence: it did everything differently, and different has never felt so right.

Zombies, like vampires, have a culturally established set of rules, right? Such pop culture doctrines are, of course, meant to be broken. Even if purists (whatever that even means) insist on whining about it later, it’s always worth it, isn’t it? If vampires can glitter, then some zombies can run, and if some zombies can run, then who is to say they can’t think or feel or fall in love or be re-humanized altogether?

Well that’s just it, isn’t it: no one was saying these things up until this movie came along. No one was taking the zombie genre and pitting it against romance, and making that romance matter to the film’s zombie logic as opposed to just having it remain separate and therefore unimportant. Warm Bodies presents us first with the feeling and thinking zombie, later named R and played charmingly by Nicholas Hoult, and the audience is immediately aligned with the undead, who are usually our on-screen enemies, our cues to be scared for our living protagonists. As R’s voiceover suggests though, life is pretty boring and joyless for a corpse, and we cannot help but feel instantly sympathetic, especially with a script so clever and witty. From the very beginning it flips well known zombie logic on its head and says, hey life is kind of hard with people trying to shoot you all the time. Honestly, I never thought of it that way. And for a zombie movie to make a viewer think in a different way about a creature we all thought we knew pretty well by now, well I’d say it started out successful and only continued to impress.

The romance, again, is adorably chronicled, which is strange to admit because one party is dead and ate the brain of the other party’s former boyfriend… awkward much? Well, the stakes are raised for the couple when their odd courtship gives hope to the other zombies, whose hearts can be seen beat a single time in their chests– another clever way of presenting a conflict within the corpses, who even begin to have more and more dialogue (my personal favorite lines often came from the mouth of Rob Corddry’s Marcus).

The other thing I really respected about the film’s negotiation of genres was that while the film dealt well with romance and humor, it didn’t stray away from taking other kinds of risks with it’s zombies; besides the thinking, feeling protagonist zombie, there was a uniquely terrifying set of creatures known as the boneys. These skeletal monsters, too far gone to revert back to humanity, were genuinely creepy and like nothing I had ever seen in a zombie movie before either. Usually, horror comedies are just comedies with gore, but I can honestly say that every genre at play here was hit upon equally and effectively, while also being challenged and rearranged to play off of one another within the same film. And that, to me, is the most exciting thing about this film: nothing falls short, and everything just worked. I can only hope that a film like World War Z experiments with the genre in interesting and exciting ways too; I was skeptical, but Warm Bodies has infected my curiosity and brought my faith in zombies back to life.

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3 thoughts on “Review/Essay: Warm Bodies and the case for zombie genre crossovers

  1. It’s Romeo and Juliet ala Zombies:
    R – Romeo
    Julie – Juliet
    Nora – Nurse
    M – Mercutio
    The balcony scene, etc.

    😉

    • Yes I noticed that too! It took me until the balcony scene, at which point I realized all the parallels. I loved that aspect of it, definitely, I should have included it in my review! 🙂
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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