Once a cinematic terrain occupied by the likes of George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci, the concept of a zombie film has been modified over the past decade. From Danny Boyle’s infected cannibals in 28 Days Later to Zack Snyder’s remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, modest adjustments were made to the mythos of the dead coming to life. And as zombie culture seeped into other mediums, from video games (Left 4 Dead) to television (The Walking Dead), the ubiquity of zombies has left much needed room for reinterpretation. Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies, an adaptation of Isaac Marion’s short story turned novel, possesses the promise of broadening the landscape. But fundamental formal issues plague an otherwise inventive attempt at giving this agonizingly dull genre a pulse.
Heavily utilizing voiceover narrations in its opening sequence, Warm Bodies fundamentally lifts Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as two star-crossed lovers come together. The balcony scene and critical father are present throughout the picture – thought it’s the deployment of various genre tropes that gives Warm Bodies a modicum of personality. As R (Nicholas Hoult) falls for Julie (Teresa Palmer), R happens to be chewing on the carcass of Julie’s now ex-boyfriend (Dave Franco). It’s the picture’s best sequence, as Levine’s tendencies for underscoring every scene with musical cues, actually works to his benefit – the humor, horror, and longing for humanism coalesce wonderfully in a series of quick cuts. Levine, who served as director for 2011’s 50/50, unfortunately brings the same absent directorial presence to Warm Bodies. As conceptually interesting as Warm Bodies may be, Levine offers little to the proceedings beyond some varying visual palette shifts. While the picture possesses an impeccable selection of songs, ranging from Bob Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm to M83’s Midnight City, Levine shows little discretion in how to use these bits of licensed music.
Warm Bodies lacks a propulsive element to its construction – it’s never quite as funny as it wants to be, never quite as thrilling as it attempts to be, and never quite as bold as it clearly yearns to be. Even Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland bridged its comedy and action elements more effectively, coupling that with a more interesting romantic component that was always ancillary to that picture’s intent. And that’s not to mention Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, which remains the subgenre’s (a zom-rom-com?) best effort. There’s simply no personality to a Levine’s efforts, even if there is something there conceptually.