Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Twilight of the Zombies

Warm Bodies       Final Cut Score: 90%

Zombies are the new vampires. While some would argue the two non-warring factions of the undead have been playing on a level playing field for some time, I'd suggest the success of the Twilight franchise eclipsed any real shot of an even-footed battle for pop culture supremacy.

But with the insane popularity of The Walking Dead and Brad Pitt's World War Z on the horizon, zombies are on the brink of devouring humanity's brains. And that brings us to a project that further cements the ungrateful dead's domination of nowWarm Bodies, think of it as the zombie genre's Twilight minus the Muenster and replaced with gray matter.

Narrated via a voice-inside-his-rotted-out head, R (Nicholas Hoult, AKA the kid from About a Boy) is a twentysomething victim of the zombie apocalypse, making his home in a jetliner stuffed with relics of the society he once knew – sort of. Able to construct normal conversation in his mind but not with his lips, R slogs around the airport, lamenting the fact he's resigned to a life of consuming flesh and binging on brains.

Walled off from the plague-infested world, Julie (Teresa Palmer, AKA Kristen Stewart's doppelganger, "troubled" eyebrows and all), is a teen tasked with gathering living essentials from the outside and bringing it back to her leader-of-the-uninfected-society daddy (John Malkovich). But one of those amassing missions goes horribly awry as Julie and her ragtag team of scavengers run into R's pack of flesh-eaters, resulting in the untimely death of Julie's boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) via brain-gobbling.

In an ingenious twist, it's through a zombie's munching on brains that they re-experience the emotion of what being fully alive means – R relives Perry's life in flashbacks with each gnashing of his zombified teeth. It's a morbid yet über-creative way to delve into Warm Bodies' heart, a previously inconceivable zombie/human romance. R's "Beast" to Julie's "Belle".

Through his superb use of music, director Jonathan Levine (50/50) takes the film's visceral effectiveness to level ten, mixing in tracks by Bruce Springsteen, Bon Iver, Guns N' Roses and M83. It's hard to beat a brain-eating scene with John Waits' "Missing You" blaring in the background, the '80s ode to the forlorn has never sounded so grotesquely poignant.

With a profusion of heart, humor and wry intelligence, Warm Bodies is an immensely impressive Shawn of the Dead meets Beauty and the Beast addition to the pantheon of zombie cinema. The first unexpected treat of 2013 has arrived.