Zombies continue to be the “monsters of the moment” in Hollywood.
Sure, George A. Romero would have you believe the brain-craving beasties never went out of style. But television programs like The Walking Dead and movies such as Brad Pitt’s upcoming World War Z are keeping zombies on pop culture’s radar… at least until it’s time to circle back around to werewolves, mummies or whichever creature from the depths of the black lagoon is ready, once again, for its time in the cinematic spotlight.
puts its stamp on the zombie genre before the undead craze runs its course… which is good, because you haven’t seen a movie spin the zombie formula quite like this before.
The movie adapts a debut novel by Isaac Marion, while also putting in obvious homages to William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, the 1933 version of King Kong, John Hughes’ oeuvre… it’s a smorgasbord of horror and teen-comedy references, balanced beautifully by director Jonathan Levine (who helmed Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s emotionally winning “cancer comedy” 50/50).
Warm Bodies might be top of mind with your teenager as it heads to theaters. Marion’s short story “I Am a Zombie Filled with Love” became a bit of an Internet sensation, which helped the book become a best seller endorsed by Twilight titan Stephenie Meyer. And the movie, despite the presence of zombies, might be more appropriate for your kids than you’d originally imagined. There’s violence and mild horror gore, but the life lessons far outweigh the carnage, and the cast has a wonderful chemistry that makes Bodies more than worth your time.
This is one of those rare occasions where I was lucky enough to sit across from the stars of Warm Bodies and ask them their thoughts on sharing Levine’s film with teenagers. I’ll mix my own commentary in with the cast’s insights. So, let’s figure out when you can watch Warm Bodies with your kids.
First off, what’s Warm Bodies actually about?
Like most films of it’s ilk, it’s set in a not-so-distant future. Ninety-five percent of the world’s population has been transformed into wandering, distant-gazing zombies. Our protagonist (Nicholas Hoult) navigates us through this washed-out wasteland as he tunes us in to his inquisitive and comical inner monologue. He tries to remember his past, starting with his name. (All he recalls is that it might have started with the letter “R.”) And right as “R” starts to wonder if there’s anything substantial left to accomplish in this undead existence, he spots – and falls head over heels in love with – Julie (Teresa Palmer), one of the country’s last remaining freedom fighters.
Budding romance in the heart of a postapocalyptic landscape? Yep. And Julie’s interest in “R” (standing for Romeo, perhaps?) helps drag him back to his previous human state. That’s what helps make Warm Bodies more “coming of age” than “losing of life.” There’s violence on-screen -- zombies eat brains, and the hunted humans take out some of “R”’s undead colleagues -- but never in a gratuitous fashion.
“Warm Bodies doesn’t place the focus on gore or horror, or the bloodiness of eating brains,” Palmer reminded me. “It’s satirical. It’s funny. It has love at its heart. … It’s done in a way that’s not too confronting for teenagers.”
“It’s got a balance,” Hoult adds. “There is a little bit of horror in there. Obviously, it’s a zombie film. But it’s not gruesome, and it’s not in your face. There’s nothing that’s going to scar anyone for life. There are versions of this film that could have been R rated and full on. [Laughs] But that’s not the audience we want to see this film. It woudn’t make sense to turn this movie into that. It’s a sweet love story underneath it all. And it’s very funny. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
The parent in me has to point out that the third act of Warm Bodies does ramp up the gunplay as tensions between the zombies and the humans (led by a gun-toting and paranoid John Malkovich) come to a head. But Levine limits it to pulse-pounding adventure over the gratuitous gore of, say, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (which is proud to be gross). Warm Bodies stays emotional. It’s one of the film’s many hooks.
There’s one last Red Flag that should be noted: the Bonies. There are undead creatures who’ve moved past the corpse state “R” occupies. They’re described as skeletons with skin stretched tightly over their bones, and they have no remorse. They’re also the most unnerving aspect of Warm Bodies. If your kids can get past them, the rest is smooth sailing.
It’s refreshing, every once in a while, to find out that the talents you’re interviewing run into a lot of the same problems in their lives with which you wrestle. Celebrities -- they really are just like us! When I explained to Warm Bodies costar Rob Corddry (Children’s Hospital, The Daily Show) the point of my column, he expressed frustration at not being sure what to show his own children.
“I’m fascinated by this, and I’m going to read your column,” he said, “because I have two kids who are six and four, and I have no idea. We just watched The Goonies
the other day. There’s a LOT of swearing! As long as you don’t make a big deal, they don’t even hear it, but…”
I feel your pain, Rob. But we both agreed that there’s a reading component to Warm Bodies that can begin a healthy dialogue with your kids. Grab Marion’s book before you check out the film adaptation. Dig into the themes of connectivity, and “R”’s struggle to be better than the zombie that life has turned him into… if it means he can spend more time with Julie.
“The book, and the movie, are more about the connection between humans,” Palmer noted. “I think that that’s really the main focus of this film. You get all of the other elements, too, that make it exciting and fun.”
Young girls interested in this alternate take on Shakespeare also will find something that has been lacking on-screen as of late: a notable, female role model. There’s only so much Katniss a young girl can take. And Palmer resembles Kristen Stewart of the Twilight Saga… only with personality. She and Hoult give Bodies a warm, beating heart, and I think this is a movie that’s going to connect with preteen and teenage audiences in ways that Gremlins or The Lost Boys did for us.
I’m not sure if Marion’s book falls into the ever-growing young adult category for literature, but that’s the tone and texture Levine went after with his movie, and he nailed it… a difficult balancing act given the horror roots of the material. There’s far more humor and heart in Warm Bodies than blood and brains, and I think it could work as a suitable entry to some of the horror genre’s staples for younger audiences who’d like to see the romantic Romeo and Juliet storyline through a fresh, contemporary viewpoint.
There’s crude language and some necessary violence. But there are good lessons about nonconformity, about trusting in those who are different, and about fighting back against impossible odds to be with the one you love.
I think Warm Bodies works for kids age 12 and up. It’s a rare breed of film that will appeals to young girls and boys for different reasons. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a first-date movie for some young couples looking for an escape at the movie theater. If you do decide to grab the book and/or check the movie out with your kids, as always, let me know how it goes.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.