BY EMILY GAGNE AND MICHELLE MEDFORD
Back in December, the original Filles got a chance to see a super-advanced screening of Warm Bodies, a romantic comedy following the relationship between a zombie (Nicholas Hoult) and a human girl (Teresa Palmer). Seeing as both girls love horror films as much as they do love stories, the moment they learned they had tickets, they sprinted to the theatre like their lives depended on it.
Two months later, with the theatrical release of Warm Bodies finally creeping up upon us (it hits theatres Feb. 1!), Michelle and Emily reflect on the light horror dramedy they saw that fateful night and how it fits in the ever-evolving zombie zeitgeist.
HOW IT FARES AS A ZOM-COM
E: Although the promotional campaign clearly set Warm Bodies up as a love story, there were also a fair amount of fight sequences featured in the trailers, giving me the impression that there would be some zombie-on-zombie combat going down. I wasn’t expecting anything as gory fun as Zombieland, but I wanted to see at least some punny, bone-shattering battles. And you will. But they’re all quite minimal and held until the big finale, which plays like Jason and the Argonauts in a dimly-lit, Olympic-sized football arena, as R and Co. battle against the Bonies (a.k.a. their evil, skeletal cronies).
While I wouldn’t call myself a zombie fangirl precisely, I do love zombie-themed horror-comedies like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. And the reason I like them is because they amp up the parts I find tiresome about traditional zombie flicks, turning the slow-moving chases and fight scenes into grossly hilarious bits of sickening (in a good, RuPaul’s Drag Race way) dark comedy. The fight scenes seen in Warm Bodies may be fairly fast-paced, but the aren’t as over-the-top entertaining as they could have been, because they were sidelined for the purpose of crafting a fully-rounded romance between the leads. Perhaps if they make a prequel — and if this flick connects with the YA generation like I think it will, they will — they can forgo the emotional boners and bring on more one-on-ones with the Bonies. Having seen some of director Jonathan Levine’s earlier work, particularly the underappreciated slasher flick All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, I know he has some quality kill scenes in him.
M: I am the zombie fangirl that Emily says she’s not, and I’m actually not too much into horror comedies. Although the zombie aspects of this movie take a backseat to romance, I didn’t really mind. What I enjoyed was the movie’s overarching twist on zombie theory (hey, there is such a thing), the idea that zombies could potentially humanize themselves and resist their mindless impulses. Zombification as a reversible condition unleashes all sorts of implications on what it means to actually be or become a zombie, which I won’t go into, since I realize I’m just being way too nerdy right now. But switching to something much lighter, Nicholas Hoult is probably one of my favourite zombies ever, reminding me of another we zombie fans all love, David Emge in the original Dawn of the Dead.
AND AS A ROM-COM
M: As a rom-com, I’m not sure how I feel about this movie. Julie is kidnapped by R shortly after he eats her (jerk-of-a) boyfriend’s brain, yet she’s still smitten with him. Maybe it’s partly a revolt against her father (John Malkovich), an army general determined to keep zombies separated from humans, but that doesn’t make it love either. It’s also an adaptation of the most well-known love story of all time, Romeo and Juliet, which could explain my frustration, since I’m also frustrated with that story. Romeo smoothly moves from another girl to Juliet, who barely knows him, and suddenly, the two are supposedly in the truest of true loves. Anyway, their ingenuine love aside, it is a pretty cool idea to set the Montague/Capulet feud against the backdrop of the zombie apocalypse.
E: I actually didn’t have much of a problem with the logistics of romance in this movie. I imagine that in desperate times, people would get pretty damn desperate for human contact. Like, so desperate that they’d even settle for sub-human contact. Such, I think, is the case with Julie and R. After losing her main source of humanity, her boyfriend, Julie finds solace in R’s remaining human qualities. And the more she connects with him, the more human he becomes, making it easier and easier for her to fall for him, despite what he’s done. She can see that before the icy skin and flesh cravings took over, R was a real, living person, with real, lasting feelings, and thus, he is capable of having real, lasting feelings for her.
What bugged me about R and Julie’s love story was, as Michelle mentioned, the Romeo and Juliet factor. I love the Shakespeare play endlessly, but it’s been copied far too many times in popular culture already. And this tribute was painfully obvious. I mean, their names are R and Julie, for the Bard’s sake! And there are even some moments in the movie where we see them recreate classic scenes from the play. After one particular sequence, I almost wanted to tap the star-crossed lovers on the shoulder and say, “Wherefore art thou … so goddamn cheesy?!”
NICHOLAS HOULT IS R FAVOURITE
E: The first time I laid my eyes on Nicholas Hoult, he was the bushy-eyebrowed, oft-bothered boy of About a Boy. Back then, I loved him for his drier than dry wit and disheveled adorableness, which, impressively, matched that of his co-star Hugh Grant. Fast forward ten years, and that boy I once knew and loved has grown into a man. And I think I love him more than ever.
Since my only other real exposure to him post-About A Boy was his smallish role in A Single Man, I would consider Warm Bodies my first real Adult Hoult experience. And what an experience it was. Even though he spends a lot of the movie grunting his feelings, Hoult is extremely charming as lovestruck living deadite R. I almost think the fact that he can’t talk for the majority of the movie adds to his performance. As R’s innermost thoughts are revealed solely through narration, Hoult has to communicate everything through his piercing blue eyes, purposefully clunky body language and perfectly-timed groans. Ironically, this earnest and purely emotional approach makes R, a certifiable zombie boy, the liveliest part of the film. By far.
M: One of my favourite superhero movies is X-Men: First Class (after only Hellboy), in part because of the complexity of its characters, one of which is Hank McCoy, who later becomes Beast, played by Hoult. Hank is a little different; he’s got prehensile feet, that is, he’s got feet like hands. He doesn’t feels like he fits in and does all that he can (with unexpected results) to be normal. Sounds a bit like R.
Hoult has got relatability down. For those of us who’ve felt awkward or out-of-place at times, it’s easy to connect with him. But I think Hoult’s got a lot more potential than he’s letting on, especially considering neither R nor Hank are particularly meaty roles (R’s pretty basic and Hank wasn’t a focal character). He’s got an action movie and an adventure movie due out later this year, which is fine and I’m sure he’ll be great. But I’d like to see him try something more challenging in the future.
E: Usually, when a movie is good, but not quite awesome, it’s easy to fall back on the ol’ “Well, the soundtrack’s really great!” critique. But in this case, I think that statement legitimately applies. While I expected the background track list to be filled with newer indie stuff, making it a pseudo-crossbreed between the Twilight and Hunger Games soundtracks, it actually contains some quality classics as well, as R listens to a number of old records with Julie. One track that really stands out is “Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen. The song, a certifiable classic on its own, plays off the themes of the film in a light-hearted, but meaningful way. Like the Boss says, everybody’s got a hungry heart. Some of those hearts are hungry for love. Some of those hearts are hungry for brains. And some very special hearts, like R’s, are hungry for both.
M: I was sold on this movie when I heard The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” in the trailer. Not only is it an amazing song, but it’s also the perfect fit lyrically. Like Emily said, the movie’s got a really great oldies selection, which blends perfectly with its retro-sounding and indie contemporary picks, like “Runaway” by The Nationals, “Numbers Don’t Lie” by the Mynabirds, and, one of my personal favourites, “The Bad in Each Other” by Feist. And you can tell by the titles along, they’re also a great match lyrically.
THE FINAL GRADES
M: I liked this movie, partly because I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. A creative literary adaptation, thoughtful interpretation of zombie theory and perfect soundtrack maKe up for the lesser aspects of this movie.
E: I wish I had warmed to Warm Bodies a little more. And perhaps, had their been a bit more zom in the rom-com, I might have. Just know going in that it’s a love story first, and I’m sure you’ll eat it right up.