It would seem that the lines between children’s fairy tales, sleeping princesses woken by the kiss of a passing prince, and horror fiction aimed at more mature audiences, the seductive gaze of the vampire whose kiss brings eternal sleep. The teen, even preteen, audience is increasing sought after by studios eager to identify new revenue streams, and the booming young adult book sector has fed that need, packaging mature concepts into more palatable chunks, but what marketing executive nominated necrophilia as a suitable subject?
Warm Bodies, based on the novel by Isaac Marion, is set in the aftermath of a slow moving apocalypse; while the zombies move swiftly when the feed is upon them, for the most part they shamble about with sufficient lethargy for organised evacuations and colossal walls to be raised around the favoured enclaves of humanity.
In the same manner as they occupied the shopping mall in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, through the ruined airport shamble the curiously preserved undead, groaning and searching for sustenance, following habit by flocking to a place where they were already dehumanised, waiting for something to happen which never does. In their midst are the Boneys, those stripped of flesh and any remaining vestige of humanity; narrator R craves flesh but, he ruminates, at least he is conflicted about it.
For reasons that defy sense, the walled city relies on inexperienced teenagers to venture outside to gather medical supplies, without armour or discipline, one of them preferring to play videogames instead of the more logical lookout position which might have saved his cohort when the zombies arrive, but for R this is where everything changes.
Having killed her boyfriend and devoured his brains, when he gazes upon young Julie he is able to access the memories and feelings of her recently consumed beau, whereupon he sets about wooing and protecting her.
As the mumbling R, Nicholas Hoult is as excellent here as he was in A Single Man and X Men: First Class, but in a very different way. Where acting is usually about letting emotion out, here his unblinking performance is of someone trying to remember who they are and how to feel, squeezing the emotion out between the cracks, but he is by far the best thing in a very average film.
With no edge and taking ideas no further than the safe places of a 12A certificate, this is a teen movie with a predominantly female target audience, Twilight with zombies eager for makeover sessions rather than twinkling vampires, nowhere near as entertaining or original as either Zombieland orJuan de los Muertos. It is a fluffy romance with the undead, not a horror film with a twist, and even Sookie Stackhouse would draw the line at corpses.
Solutions are offered too simply, the primary threat of the Boneys is generic and easily overcome, and contrivances like a convenient door in the impregnable wall sealed over with security tape are overlooked by an unchallenging script from director Jonathan Levine, but the film has an undeniable sweetness to it. As R himself explains, he just wants “To feel a little better. To feel a little less dead,” and if an audience wishes nothing more than to be lightly entertained, then this film achieves its purpose.