“Warm Bodies” & “Safe Haven”
They’re both romances. They’re just done very differently. They both end
up with happily ever after, kinda. But looming questions remain.
Normally, I’m not a big fan of overdubbing, particularly when it’s
over-utilized. It can be a lazy excuse for not bothering to really act:
instead of the characters telling us how they feel, or what they’re
thinking, why don’t they show us and tell us? Isn’t that the point of
Ah, but if your character is a zombie, who’s not really able to talk, or do
anything except, well, act like a zombie, then the ploy is understandable.
This is sometime in the post-apocalypse, when civilization as we know it has
been destroyed by chemical warfare that rendered cities into empty husks and
humans into empty shells of themselves. There’s but a small remnant of
“unaffected” population, holed up inside a concrete barrier, trying
desperately to stave off the relentless attacks from the zombies, who
cannibalize their prey, and can literally sniff out a live heartbeat.
But seen through the eyes of one particular young zombie (Nicholas Hoult),
he’s somehow retained his capacity to think and feel like a normal person,
even though his body won’t allow him to express himself, sort of like
cerebral palsy victims who have otherwise normal minds. They find it difficult
to interact with others the way they’re internally capable because their
bodies betray them.
So we get this casual overdubbing from the likeable young zombie, who thinks
endearing, self-effacing things like, “We all move very slowly.”
“We’re clumsy and bump into each other a lot.” The “healthy remnant”
have to occasionally send out patrols for medical supplies, and that’s
usually when the violent conflicts happen, and in one of those, our self-aware
zombie falls in love with a fair maiden (Teresa Palmer), the daughter of the
local military commander. He manages to help her escape the clutches of the
“lost” zombies (the ones who have turned to skeletons, which he dubs
“the bonies”), and safely ensconces her on his own private little
dwelling-place, an abandoned airplane, complete with a working phonograph
player, where he plays his record albums for her. She is astonished at his
internal development, being told that was not possible. Then the cool part
starts. Her developing caring, and then affection, for him actually begins to
transform him back into a “real” person. Yes, it’s self-consciously like
Romeo and Juliet, even down to the balcony scene, but it’s actually more
like “Pinocchio,” where he, through his courage and selflessness, turns
into a “real” boy. And then it’s like “Sleeping Beauty,” except
she’s the one who kisses him and awakens him from his evil-induced stupor.
Yeah, we still get the zombie-violence stuff, which can be pretty gruesome to
watch. But at its heart, this is about the transformative power of love, and
in a very unexpected context.
In “Safe Haven,” however, that is exactly what we expect to see, and when
we do, we’re not at all surprised, which is part of the disappointment of
this too-predictable love story. Plus, the logic holes are frustratingly
A young woman (Julianne Hough) running breathlessly from something hops on a
bus and gets off at a lovely seaside resort where she promptly lands a job at
a local seafood diner. (What, nobody asks for identification any more? No
background checks? Maybe decades ago, but not now.) She tries keeping to
herself, but there’s a persistent neighbor who’s quietly insistent on a
burgeoning friendship, and then there’s this handsome widower (Josh Duhamel)
who owns the bait shop, trying to raise his two kids by himself, and we all
know where this is headed.
The edge here is viewer deception, not only with the “pre-story,” but also
with the screenplay, which will only irritate some viewers. Then, at the end,
we wonder why there don’t seem to be any legal repercussions to some
definite personal violence, even if it was in self-defense. And yes, even
throwing in the “but-I-was-abused” defense doesn’t entirely settle the
The atmosphere of “Warm Bodies” leans definitely toward the dark and
sinister, while in “Safe Haven” it’s benign to the point of schmaltz and
saccharin. Depends on whether you want your love stories wrapped in salt and
vinegar or sugar and cinnamon.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,