Zombies are Such Hipsters

Warm Bodies
(USA, 98 min.)
Written and directed by Jonathan Levin
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Cordry, Dave Franco.
Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult star in Warm Bodies
Courtesy of eOne Films.
Zombieo, Zombieo, wherefore art thou, Zombieo? Shakespeare’s corpse goes on a ravenous rampage in Warm Bodies, a bizarre and bloodless retread of Romeo and Juliet. This loose play on the classical tale is as lifeless as a zombie. Warm Bodies is a zombie itself in the unending wave of unthinking and immobile zombie pics.

What Warm Bodies, adapted from the novel by Isaac Marion, aims to do with the tease on R+J is unapparent, aside from playing up the star-crossed lovers angle of the film’s two young leads. Like the Montagues and the Capulets, the dead and the living are not supposed to mingle. (It generally leads to a charge of necrophilia, anyways.) “R,” played by Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man), is a young corpse hobbling about the streets of the near future. R is a melancholy wonderer, as his annoying voiceover suggests, for he laments the loss of human connection as corpses roam the Earth in search of brains to eat. (The film frequently makes a point of avoiding the word “zombie”.) The humans have built a wall to protect themselves from the dead, but the corpses are hunted themselves by a group of super-corpses named bonesies, which are corpses that have reached a greater level of decay and therefore feast on humans and corpses alike.

Fates collide when R meets Julie (Teresa Palmer). Julie, a human and the daughter of the anti-corpse corps (her father is played by John Malkovich), is a gun-toting corpse killer until R saves her from a flesh-eating feast. Julie saves R in turn, as he shows signs of life with each little heartbeat that twitters for the blonde babe.

It’s hard to share R’s rapid pulse for the predictable and, frankly, irritating Warm Bodies. It’s a disappointing product from writer/director Levine, who showed such a spark for life, drama, and comedy in last year’s 50/50 and the 2008 gem The Wackness. Warm Bodies spends too much time marinating in its own self-consciousness. R’s incessant voice-over, for one thing, is a zombie-punch to the brain, while the awkward and distracting soundtrack unleashes a wave of alt-rock hits that were hip when the film started production. The film makes ample winks to zombie conventions and human disconnection, too, but it’s so concerned with being self-aware and with avoiding easy categorization that it forgets to be funny, romantic, or scary. Zombie films have simply depleted their supply of brains.

An allegory for mankind’s own living deadness, zombies have conveyed virtually the same message since George A. Romero’s cult classic Night of the Living Dead. Bitten by the bug of capital gain, filmmakers have caught on to the zombie zeitgeist—if one can even call it that—that has exploded into a cultural phenomenon. People roam the streets in make-up for Zombiewalks as some sort of political protest. The actually reason of becoming a zombie seems superfluous, since nobody pretending to be dead ever articulates the reason for the public charade. A zombie is just a hipster with a different funk.

A most hipster-friendly zombie movie, Warm Bodies says nothing new, but it has an ample supply of hair products to keep the corpses nice and tousled with dead-head. Like the Zombie-walkers, Warm Bodies follows a trend merely for the sake of keeping up with the times. Levine presents a zombieland in which signs of intelligent life are scarce, aside from a playful “’Sup?” from Analeigh Tipton (Damsels in Distress), who is a lot of fun as Julie’s fellow humanoid.

Warm Bodies offers nothing fresh with the genre—zombie comedies are so 2009—and its pithy attempt with the Romeo and Juliet ploy never develops into anything good. Star-crossed humans and zombies were just never meant to mingle. Unthinking zombies will love the film, though, and perhaps the news of Richard III’s parking lot burial may inspire a whole wave of Shakespearean monster movies. King Richard has a lot more menace than the love-struck Romeo does, anyways. 

Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)  

Warm Bodies is currently playing in wide release.