“Warm Bodies” is a Romeo and Juliet homage with zombies.
I didn’t realize that at first, even though the Designated Love Interest’s name is Julie (Juliet). It was while the zombie protagonist was trying to slur out his name and kept just saying “Rrrrr” and Julie was trying to guess “R” names that I chuckled indulgently to myself and though “lol “romeo” is an “R” name” and then I wanted to die. Unlike “Romeo and Juliet,” however, only 1 person dies in “Warm Bodies.”
I’ve mentioned before that I love vampires and vampire movies. I have a deep and abiding love for them. They were one of the first supernatural creatures I really got into (although I flirted with werewolves for a while, in part because I’m exceptionally hairy and have a unibrow I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING) and “Vampire: the Masquerade” remains a touchstone of my role playing life. But zombies? I love zombie books and movies, too, even though they’re pretty over done and cliche now. A lot of the focus now is on the scrappy band of protagonists being total survivalist badasses who are ace shots and super athletic and blah blah survivor porn. But the shambling hordes of things that LOOK human but AREN’T remains extremely creepy to me, and my favorite zombie stories are ones that do something a little different with the established tropes.
If zombies represent the fear of the implacable approach of death, the indignity of loss of rational thought and the fear of losing loved ones (and society), what do redeemable zombies represent? If we delay that final head shot out of desire to save the not quite dead, we risk losing ourselves- and the world. How merciful can we afford to be? How much hope can we risk having? “Warm Bodies” doesn’t really address the question. It spends no real time talking about how the zombies got started or spread, and there’s no real explanation of how the zombies come to life again… because they do. Their hearts start beating, they gain memories, they breathe, they come to life again. They become reintegrated into society. The zombie apocalypse lasts for less than a generation. And while I generally like more fake science-y explanations about zombies (it’s rabies! it’s magic! it’s a curse! it’s the cure for cancer crossed with the cure for the common cold! it’s an implanted parasite making a self-aware bid for freedom and separate identity!), the movie really isn’t about that: it’s about a walking corpse who collects records and is so totally misunderstood yet cool that a hot chick wants to bone him despite his murdering and eating her boyfriend and horrific stench and lack of conversational skills.
There’s some issues with this movie, like the massive security breach in the walled human city that nobody notices… not the shambling hordes of zombies eager for fresh brains, not the well trained and disciplined military groups constantly patrolling; or the fact that almost the entire cast is white (out of the entire horde of zombies, 5 of them look other than white; out of the walled city, 3 soldiers are Black. The love interests and all their friends are white or white passing); the fact that Julie goes from rightfully terrified to flippantly sassy toward her undead captor; the fact that Julie starts falling in love with a creature that isn’t human and eats humans. It’s kind of like a cow falling in love with a farmer… and a farmer falling in love with a cow.
There’s a lot that the movie does right, though. Julie doesn’t spend much time mourning for her dead boyfriend because in her world to love someone means preparing for their deaths. And it’s not a big tragic tear jerking thing when she says that, it’s a casual almost offhand thing. It’s just part of life, something common. How depressing. The acting is good. The make up affects on the “corpses” (traditional type zombies) looks good. The “bonies” (more advanced zombies) look pretty shitty, but the concept is creepy.
It was also interesting that zombies are able to make some decisions about how they kill. They can chose whether or not to eat a victim’s brains. If they don’t eat the brain, the body rises up as another zombie. If they do eat the brains, they gain the body’s memories and emotions (R likens it to dreaming) and the body just dies. R chooses, early in the movie, to eat Perry’s brain during the zombie attack on their looting party. This leads to a HORRIFIC scene where R, full of Perry’s memories and emotions toward Julie, approaches Julie, corners her, and gently touches her face with his gore-befouled hand. He smears Perry’s blood and viscera on her gently, lovingly, as she cringes and waits for death… and then he leads her out of there to the home he’s set up in an airplane (which… do the other zombies also have homes and safe places?).
Over all I enjoyed this movie. I do want to note that this is based on a YA book, and YA largely caters to a (young) female audience. Books about male characters coming of age are Great Literature while books about female characters coming of age are chicklit, you know? The primary audience for YA is young women. The primary audience for this movie, for this romantic comedy about cute teen zombies, is young women. And in this movie written for and advertised to young women a human woman escapes from the brain-eating monster that killed and devoured her boyfriend and that monster’s best friend dismisses her with the word “bitches.” Women. Such bitches. Why DO they act the way they do? Why don’t they realize that awkward soulful boys who don’t fit in DESERVE their love regardless of their own preferences or desires for safety? The casual misogyny was jarring, and while it might have been meant ironically it still stung. Other than that, though, Julie’s a pretty well realized character who drives the movie quite a bit. Her best friend Nora doesn’t get much screen time, but feels like a human being and not simply Generic Female Character Designation: Friend. The movie overall does a better job with female characters than most horror (or other genre) movies.
I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars.
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