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'Warm Bodies': not just any zombie flick

On February 4, 2013

I think we all know the zombie story by now. The dead come back to life as flesh hungry monsters and surviving humans have to fend them off, slowly dwindling in numbers. "Warm Bodies" takes the tired narrative, as well as the awareness that we've all seen it before and spins it around to create a refreshing and surprisingly touching film.
The post-apocalyptic universe of "Warm Bodies" is slightly different than those we've come to know. In this incarnation, zombies are not completely mindless, retaining a shred of their humanity which they seek to enhance by eating the brains of their victims. Beneath them exist Bonies, skeletal figures of decayed corpses or zombies who just tore themselves apart which are essentially rabid wolves. The story is told from the perspective of a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult) because he can only remember the first letter of his name. He encounters a group of survivors and falls for a girl named Julie (Teresa Palmer) after eating the brain of her boyfriend. He seeks to protect her and win over her affection, which causes him to slowly regain his humanity.
Believe it or not, the zombie love story works very well. The films gives the relationship a time to develop, R quickly wins our sympathies and while the plot jumps logic in places, the tone is so endearing and brings out a message of hope and companionship so sincere, you can't help but adore it. Due to R's limited speech ability, much of the story is told through music, the entire soundtrack well selected and incorporated. There are also several dream sequences used to symbolize the past and all life was before the apocalypse, which are shot and edited masterfully, and added another dimension to the drama. I also commend "Warm Bodies" for a smart and original third act, which actually bothers to have a resolution, often missing in zombie films.
The film is also a comedy, with much of the humor coming from R's dry snarky observations about the zombie infested world we're all too familiar with. Little of the comedy is physical or employs gross out humor with the dismemberment of body parts; as the film smartly recognizes that's better utilized as a tool for sorrow than laughs. Rob Corddry gives a very funny performance as M, a fellow zombie and friend of R. The film manages to generate laughs without distracting from the narrative, and knows the time and place for jokes.
"Warm Bodies" does have a few minor drawbacks. Julie has a fairly bland personality and comes off as somewhat whiny in the first half. Although this may be intentional irony, having the zombie character be much more rounded and interesting than the human character. Her father and leader of the survivors is played by John Malkovich, who deserves far more than the role of the generic overprotective dad. And while I appreciate the tweaks "Warm Bodies" made to the setting, the zombies do seem a little too close to human at times, with surprising motor skills and communication abilities.
"Warm Bodies" does so much with so little. It takes two stale premises: the zombie apocalypse and the unlikely romance and creates a film more original than most in either genre. It succeeds in being a story all its own and proves that even the wildest of premises can made into heartwarming and effective stories.

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