“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 film?
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 enormous.
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 matter.
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, Texas