Warm Bodies – the Anti-Twilight?

Posted: March 3, 2013 in Film
Tags: , ,

Sometimes I feel sorry for Young Adult Fiction. More often than not, it’s written off as shit and mercilessly panned solely for the crime of existing. Maybe it’s a reflection of how society views teenagers in general. Once you’ve been through it all and safely reached your twenties, why not pull up the ladder and have a jolly good sneer at the poor sods down below? “Bwahaaha! Look at those stupid adolescents struggling with their angst, hormones and social awkwardness. Glad I was never like that!”

This goes double for any teen-friendly media that dares venture into the horror genre, especially when monsters are portrayed with sympathy. The beauty is you don’t even have to READ the book or SEE the movie to stick in the proverbial boot. C’mon guys, you know the chant… “Just like Twilight”. This is lazy, ill-informed criticism and I’m sick to death of it.

Now here’s a twist – I’ve just seen a movie where direct comparisons with Twilight are not only merited but actually make it quite interesting. Warm Bodies is a tale of zombie-meets-girl that I’m 85% certain is a subconscious piss-take of Stephenie Meyer’s sparkly fap fest. The thought occurred to me during a romantic flashback to a young couple lying together in a meadow exchanging sweet nothings. Why? Because A. The exact thing happens in Twilight and B When it appears in Warm Bodies, the young man in question is having his brains devoured by a zombie. Okay Summit Entertainment – I may have flinched like a classicly trained lab rat when I saw your logo but now you’ve officially got my attention.

Two zombies walk into a bar - stop me if you've heard this one before

Two zombies walk into a bar – stop me if you’ve heard this one before

Here are three ways in which Warm Bodies compares quite favourably to Twilight.

Humour
If there’s one thing I can’t stand about the Twilight films, it’s the haughty po-facedness of it all. Read the dialogue and you’ll swear blind (as I did) that it HAD to be read aloud with a healthy dollop of snark. The premise is batshit crazy and the characters would have to acknowledge this in order to claim any level of credibility. As it turned out, I was horribly, horribly wrong.

At least Warm Bodies knows it’s own ridiculousness from start to finish. Our protagonist “R” (Nicholas Hoult) is completely self aware despite being a walking corpse. His inner monologue shifts from deadpan wit to neurotic stammering depending on his proximity to a pretty girl. We laugh with him at the state of the world and we laugh at ourselves when he succumbs to shy awkwardness. Lest we forget, we’ve all been there. And – as the film effectively tells its target audience – that’s okay.

We need humour in stories like these, as they push our suspension of disbelief to breaking point. Hopefully during Warm Bodies we’ll be too busy enjoying the ride to start pulling at loose threads, because there are plenty of those! People pick apart the Twilight “Saga” not just because it’s ridiculous but because it takes itself far too seriously. It’s also incredibly long and boring, so uncovering plot holes is a fun way to pass the time when you’ve been dragged to the cinema.

Filth
No, I don’t mean sex, explicit violence or gore (mind you, for a 12A you get a fair amount of brain munching). I mean dirty stinky human grubbiness, which Warm Bodies delivers in the visceral connotations of the title alone.

(apologies for the blatant “uni-speak” there. One day I hope to break the habit and be able to talk like less of a wanker)

Helloooo ladies!

Helloooo ladies!

There are no zombies in Meyer’s world, with the possible exception of Kristen Stewart. Twilight is perfect, pristine. Twilight is virginal (big selling point) and sanitary. Vampires wear nice clothes, drive nice cars and have shiny white porcelain skin. Werewolves – a hairier, messier supernatural breed by nature – are all waxed, chiselled and (I hope) fully housetrained.

Zombies on the other hand are the unattractive, smelly kind of monster; shambling around in their filthy, brain-splattered clothing (SO last season) and making appalling groaning noises. Imagine one of them taking you to the prom! They barely possess the motor functions to string together the most basic flattery, something the Bella Swans of the world crave like oxygen. Other repulsive zombie traits – cold flesh, pallid skin, eating people etc – are also shared by vampires. But hey, who cares if you’re dating a living corpse that feeds off the innocent, so long as they have a nice haircut?

Zombification (the Z factor?) gives more depth and meaning to the bond between R and Julie (Teresa Palmer). She has to look beyond the repugnance of her zombie companion to see the person inside. He has to make the effort to be gentle and reassuring, in spite of his frightening appearance (“don’t be creepy, don’t be creepy” he repeats in his head) and the fact he’s barely articulate. Whether or not you buy the tenderness of their shared screen time is hit or miss, but I saw far more chemistry in Warm Bodies than in all five Twilights put together.

“Star-Cross’d Lovers”

Warm-Bodies-Heart-PosterBoth Warm Bodies and Twilight: New Moon deliberately reference Romeo and Juliet. As one of William Shakespeare’s most accessible plays and one frequently studied in high school, the target audience should be familiar with the source material. However, it’s a play that’s commonly misinterpreted as a romance rather than a tragedy. True, it has elements of both but the focus on romance so often distracts from the deeper themes.

In New Moon, Bella studies Romeo and Juliet in English class then she and Edward have a nice cuddly chinwag about the play’s ending. Y’know, the suicides, which in a piece of SUBTLE FORSHADOWING Edward mentions he would totally do if Bella died. And… that’s about it. No wait – in the book I’m sure Bella had a brief ponder over “what if Juliet married Paris?” when she was considering boinking Jacob. That’s it. For a story that goes to great pains to acknowledge its Shakespearian influence, it uses surprisingly little of it.

Warm Bodies is centred on the trials and tribulations of R and Julie. Yep, we see what you did there with the names. There’s a balcony scene, an enabling friend of Julie’s who wants to be a Nurse, an “also ran” guy named Parry (who gets his brains eaten) and a father who’d gladly shoot R in the head given the opportunity. But there’s something else going on – this film DOES get across the theme of prejudice, using the humans as the Capulets and zombies as the Montagues. I’m sure that’s exactly how Shakespeare envisioned his work, possibly in an earlier draft.

Yes it’s silly, yes it puts an ideal spin on certain events but at least the cues taken from Romeo and Juliet go beyond the “star crossed” couple in Warm Bodies. This phrase, by the way, is misused to the point where it annoys the piss out of me. It may SOUND pretty but implies the inevitable tragedy of the plot rather than the pure divinity of “one twu wuv”. Please excuse me, I have to vomit.

Final Thought

The goal of R in Warm Bodies is to become more human. He desperately wishes to feel joy and love again even if it means exposure to pain and death. The bond with Julie goes beyond the two of them, inspiring hope that barriers can be broken and the world can be a better place for all. The goal of Bella in Twilight is to rid herself of that pesky humanity thing for the sake of eternal prettiness. She’ll spend her immortal life being adored by her rich vampire family and making goo-goo eyes at her perfect hubby. So, which do you think is the better message for teenagers?

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