Film review: Warm Bodies

posted at 9:31 am on February 10, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

I have to admit, I was a bit chagrined yesterday when voters in the poll selected Warm Bodies as the film to review this weekend.  I’ve never been a big fan of the zombie genre, although I thought Zombieland was a brilliant and funny deconstruction of it.  (I even made Tina Korbe and Guy Benson sit through it in Ames, Iowa in August 2011.) However, Warm Bodies turns out to be much more than a zombie movie or even a deconstruction of the genre.  If you watch carefully, you realize it’s not about zombies at all, but redemption.

The film starts off in the same kind of hip, ironic vein as Zombieland as we follow R (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men: First Class, About a Boy) on a typical day in the airport, which he and other zombies have haunted since a medical apocalypse separated humans, zombies, and even lower creatures called Bonies who have entirely given into their sickness.  The zombies sleepwalk through each day, mostly unable to communicate (except internally, as Hoult provides narration throughout the movie).  On a raid in the city, R eats the brain of a young man on a mission from a walled-in city of humans, absorbing his memories.  When he sees the young man’s girlfriend, Julie (Teresa Palmer, I Am Number Four, Wish You Were Here), R rescues her rather than eats her, but isn’t quite sure why.  Could this moment be the hinge in which humanity reunites — or is R about to have his dead heart broken?

It’s very easy to enjoy this film on its superficial level, as an often-humorous tale of zombies looking for love in all the wrong places, but that misses its spiritual core.  And that is really the heart of the film, both literally in several sequences and figuratively.

Note: Mild spoilers below.

The key moment in the film, in which its theme is ultimately revealed, takes place in a dream sequence about halfway through — although, to be honest, the direction of the film becomes apparent rather early.  Zombies don’t dream, but as R begins to find love with Julie, and as Julie responds in friendship, it creates hope, and he starts transforming slowly back to human.  R comes across Julie talking to her friend and her dead boyfriend in his first dream, and that Julie wants to save the world by “exhuming” the zombies.

It’s at this moment that the film’s core becomes clear, and not with a great deal of subtlety, either.  It’s an analogy for sin, grace, and redemption — and not just for the sinners.   Some of the zombies have become so bereft of hope that they became unredeemable — the Bonies — and the others are so lost that they can’t communicate with each other and end up preying on the humans when they find them, just to get a “taste” of human contact.  The humans who have not become infected have retreated behind high walls and defend themselves from any contact with the zombies/sinners, and will eventually get overwhelmed by the growing population of zombies, thus having little hope, either.   The only way that the humans and zombies can save each other is to connect — and when R and Julie do, it sets off a chain reaction.

Warm Bodies doesn’t give this a religious frame, which is probably for the best given Hollywood’s handling of religion in general, but anyone of faith will see the underlying message.  Neither the faithful nor the sinners can survive without hope and love, and without expressing it to each other.  Ultimately, humanity cannot be saved by pitched battles or by hiding behind walls, but by one act of love and charity at a time. And the power of just one act of love, in this case the sight of the two main characters holding hands, can change the world.

This isn’t a teenage zombie romance comedy.  It’s much deeper, and much more rewarding, if very quirky.  In the end, it’s almost the antithesis of a zombie film, which usually have unrelenting hopelessness as a theme.

The cast is excellent, especially John Malkovich, whose role as the leader of the humans could easily have been a cardboard-cutout character.  The casting of an actor of Malkovich’s subtlety is no accident.  Rob Corddry (What Happens In Vegas) gives the best performance I’ve seen him give as M, R’s “best friend” in the zombie world.  Their idea of a conversation in the beginning of the film will remind many women of how male friends converse in the real world, by the way.  Analeigh Tipton steals a couple of scenes as Julie’s friend Nora, and becomes more integral to the plot and theme near the end.

Whether you’re interested in the deeper message or just looking for a few laughs, I’d highly recommend Warm Bodies. It has a PG-13 rating for “zombie violence,” and there are some scenes that will bother the very squeamish.  Most teenagers will be able to handle it.

 

Update: Don’t miss my friend John Hanlon’s review.  He calls it “surprisingly funny,” which is absolutely true and makes it a fun watch even for those who aren’t interested in the deeper themes.


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Sounds like a candidate for Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

fogw on February 10, 2013 at 9:38 AM

Trust your readers, Ed. Sometimes we will send you in the right direction.

BigGator5 on February 10, 2013 at 9:41 AM

Lost me at the ‘eating the brain of’.

Limerick on February 10, 2013 at 9:42 AM

Lost me at the ‘eating the brain of’.

Limerick on February 10, 2013 at 9:42 AM

Well … it is a zombie movie …

Ed Morrissey on February 10, 2013 at 9:44 AM

Trust your readers, Ed. Sometimes we will send you in the right direction.

BigGator5 on February 10, 2013 at 9:41 AM

I will remember that!

Ed Morrissey on February 10, 2013 at 9:45 AM

The wife and I happened to see this movie last night, and we loved it. Having seen a trailer for it when we saw “The Hobbit” a month or so ago, we sort of knew what to expect, but it exceeded expectations. I was thinking zombie romcom, but it was way more than that.

flipflop on February 10, 2013 at 9:46 AM

What; no mention of the obvious “R”omeo and “Julie”t references? The balcony scene? The ‘nurse’ best friend?

*sigh*

j/k – nice review, Ed. I went with my family, not really expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised.

Midas on February 10, 2013 at 9:53 AM

I do not like zombie movies. I don’t care for graphic violence and don’t like being scared. I watched Zombieland last year. It took me three days to watch it (in the daylight, in bits at a time). I didn’t think it was all that funny. But Warm Bodies is excellent.

It’s the first zombie movie I’ve paid to see since Night of the Comet. (There’s only one really gory scene, and R warns you to look away before it.)

It’s funny and sweet and you leave the theater smiling. Yeah, it’s a zomromcom. It’s a zombie date movie. And it works.

I didn’t get the religious theme. I got the love redemption theme. A zombie chick flick. No wonder I was so drawn to the trailers.

Meryl Yourish on February 10, 2013 at 9:53 AM

Zombies…again?

Had enough of them.

Enough with the vampires, too.

MidniteRambler on February 10, 2013 at 9:55 AM

The Romeo and Juliet allusions are many and obvious. “M” is for Mercutio, and of course “R” and “Julie.”

gryphon202 on February 10, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Sorry, we’re not part of the Hollywood revenue stream. But, you people enjoy.

Mr. Arrogant on February 10, 2013 at 9:59 AM

The Romeo and Juliet allusions are many and obvious. “M” is for Mercutio, and of course “R” and “Julie.”

gryphon202 on February 10, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Yes, they were impossible to miss, although I didn’t think about M for Mercutio. However, they were really just superficial additions; the story doesn’t track with Romeo and Juliet at all. They were more like cultural signposts with little meaning outside of themselves. Fun for the audience, but they don’t advance the understanding of the story.

Ed Morrissey on February 10, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Zombies…again?

Had enough of them.

Enough with the vampires, too.

MidniteRambler on February 10, 2013 at 9:55 AM

Agree completely. Started moving away from the Horror genre after “The Exorcist”. Don’t do scary stuff, if I want scary stuff I always have today’s headlines.

4 And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. 5 Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee,
Luke 24:4-6a (NKJV)

Not looking for the dead, looking for the One who lives forever.

oldleprechaun on February 10, 2013 at 10:08 AM

you should watch more zombie movie, ed. almost ALL of them are about a lot more than just “zombies”.

t8stlikchkn on February 10, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Yes, they were impossible to miss, although I didn’t think about M for Mercutio. However, they were really just superficial additions; the story doesn’t track with Romeo and Juliet at all. They were more like cultural signposts with little meaning outside of themselves. Fun for the audience, but they don’t advance the understanding of the story.

Ed Morrissey on February 10, 2013 at 10:07 AM

That is because of the way the movie is different from its source material. If you want to know what I mean by that, read the novel by Isaac Marion and hope that watching the movie first doesn’t spoil it for you. ;)

gryphon202 on February 10, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Everyone should read “World War Z.”

Great book. Zombie stuff, but really well written.

blatantblue on February 10, 2013 at 10:15 AM

If zombies turn back into living people, wouldn’t they die of kuru?

possible. zombies are not cannibals, a theme explored in the original dawn of the dead. assuming they are a different species the prion causing kuru may not effect them. and perhaps the turnback might make them immune to kuru. perhaps even able to produce a serum, ala the omega man. just guessin.

t8stlikchkn on February 10, 2013 at 10:17 AM

I saw “Warm Bodies” and enjoyed it immensely. I thought it was a great twist on the usual shambling zombie genre, plus it did have a great theme on how love and emotions can not only bring the dead back to life, but back to existence itself.

pilamaye on February 10, 2013 at 10:18 AM

I have to admit, I was a bit chagrined yesterday when voters in the poll selected Warm Bodies as the film to review this weekend.

But then you realized that the base was right, you let go of your establishment instincts, and you managed to enjoy yourself. ;-)

Stoic Patriot on February 10, 2013 at 10:18 AM

I forget where I heard this, but someone said ………

“Why are zombies always feasting on human flesh. It’s not like they’ll starve or something if they don’t, they’re already dead.”

fogw on February 10, 2013 at 10:21 AM

I’ll have to remember to see it while I’m out in AZ. The family out there will appreciate the underlying themes.

nobar on February 10, 2013 at 10:24 AM

Trusting a zombie will not eat my brain is like trusting a liberal will not pick my pocket.

Inconceivable!

However, I do trust Ed’s opinion and will watch the movie.

rukiddingme on February 10, 2013 at 10:28 AM

The real world is full of horror. Why would I need to see horror movies?

But, I will watch Warm Bodies when it comes to Redbox. :)

22044 on February 10, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Trusting a zombie will not eat my brain is like trusting a liberal will not pick my pocket.

Inconceivable!

However, I do trust Ed’s opinion and will watch the movie.

rukiddingme on February 10, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Princess Bride?

22044 on February 10, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Great review, Ed, I can’t wait to see this!! I too saw the trailer during The Hobbit and I thought it looked very well-done…I think I’m going to take my girls today!!

ellifint on February 10, 2013 at 10:32 AM

“Why are zombies always feasting on human flesh. It’s not like they’ll starve or something if they don’t, they’re already dead.”

fogw on February 10, 2013 at 10:21 AM

Dunno how in-depth the movie goes in explaining this, but the novel does a very nice job early-on in tying it all up.

SPOILER ALERT:

In “Warm Bodies,” zombies can eat anything humans can for sustenance, but they take no pleasure in eating for its own sake, or anything else. Human brains, which chemically store memories even after death, are like a drug to zombies (but not bonies), as they take immense pleasure in feeling any kind of human emotion. Usually, that emotion and memory fades within a few minutes, but it’s the closest that zombies ever get to having an “addiction.”

gryphon202 on February 10, 2013 at 10:33 AM

Yeah Ed! I told you that you would find the Biblical theme in this film. It surprised us, too. I am so glad you enjoyed it. Great review from you!

texgal on February 10, 2013 at 10:35 AM

I thought it was going to be about people who get infected with brain-destroying liberalism, starting out as droning, shuffling Democrats, eventually morphing into comotose, automaton Alinskyites. Plus, Conservatives barricading themselves to avoid contamination.

KS Rex on February 10, 2013 at 10:38 AM

harry reid, bonie king

t8stlikchkn on February 10, 2013 at 10:42 AM

S.P. Link on February 10, 2013 at 10:42 AM

LOL — good one.

KS Rex on February 10, 2013 at 10:46 AM

The Half In The Bag review of this is great, along with their brilliant review of Movie 43.

Dongemaharu on February 10, 2013 at 10:50 AM

What if the poor zombies raided the survivors holed up in the Congress building, they would start cracking open skulls only to find no brains inside.

Bishop on February 10, 2013 at 10:52 AM

Princess Bride?

22044 on February 10, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Yep. ;-)

rukiddingme on February 10, 2013 at 10:59 AM

This movie was better when it was made 15 years ago and called “I, Zombie”.

CoffeeMan on February 10, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Moving the culture forward with such must see- necessary entertainment, and, enriching the liberal Socialist campaign coffers of Hollywood at the same time.

What’s not to like ?

FlaMurph on February 10, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Yes, continue to indulge in the rot and decay of our country. And continue to encourage others to do so. Continue to stuff the pockets of the very scourge of society that mocks you and your “principles”. It’s all about “you” and your entertainment (sic)fantasies that continues to drive this country down the highway to Hell.

metroryder on February 10, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Yes, continue to indulge in the rot and decay of our country. And continue to encourage others to do so. Continue to stuff the pockets of the very scourge of society that mocks you and your “principles”. It’s all about “you” and your entertainment (sic)fantasies that continues to drive this country down the highway to Hell.

metroryder on February 10, 2013 at 11:20 AM

I’ll bet you are the life of the party.

katy the mean old lady on February 10, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Yes, continue to indulge in the rot and decay of our country. And continue to encourage others to do so. Continue to stuff the pockets of the very scourge of society that mocks you and your “principles”. It’s all about “you” and your entertainment (sic)fantasies that continues to drive this country down the highway to Hell.

metroryder on February 10, 2013 at 11:20 AM

If we’re going to decry the erosion of our principles and freedoms, shouldn’t we celebrate the odd pop culture phenomenon that actually reinforces them? If I’m going to entertain the “pissed off conservative” meme, I’d like to actually have a reason beyond Howard Bealesque “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

gryphon202 on February 10, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Moving the culture forward with such must see- necessary entertainment, and, enriching the liberal Socialist campaign coffers of Hollywood at the same time.

What’s not to like ?

FlaMurph on February 10, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Yes, continue to indulge in the rot and decay of our country. And continue to encourage others to do so. Continue to stuff the pockets of the very scourge of society that mocks you and your “principles”. It’s all about “you” and your entertainment (sic)fantasies that continues to drive this country down the highway to Hell.

metroryder on February 10, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Winning friends and influencing people, Happy Warrior-style.

steebo77 on February 10, 2013 at 11:36 AM

metroryder on February 10, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Zombie got your brain?

steebo77 on February 10, 2013 at 11:37 AM

I saw Warm Bodies earlier in the week and really thought it was just a cute fun zombie film, I saw the Romeo and Juliet connection but the grace/redemption angle was lost on me. Thanks for giving new depth to a cute film.

NerwenAldarion on February 10, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Everyone should read “World War Z.”

Great book. Zombie stuff, but really well written.

blatantblue

Not hardly. My suspension of disbelief can accommodate zombies, Max Brooks’ leftwing fantasies not so much. According to Brooks everything with Israel would fine if those darned fundamentalist Jews weren’t lousing everything up. You want an excellent series of zombie books start with Day by Day Armageddon J.L. Bourne.

sandbagger on February 10, 2013 at 1:27 PM

Ed, I’m mildly surprised that you liked this movie. I don’t think I’ll pay to see it, but it is on my list for when it comes to Netflix.

simkeith on February 10, 2013 at 1:40 PM

How anybody can like this dreck and not like The Walking Dead is beyond me.

This is like Twilight meets My Little Pony meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

It makes Zombie Strippers seem plausible.

john1schn on February 10, 2013 at 1:50 PM

Been wanting to watch this movie ever since i saw the trailer of it..probably will wait though till it comes out on Blu-Ray to watch it

sadsushi on February 10, 2013 at 2:25 PM

It could be because of the class I’m taking on Coursera right now, but ever since I saw the movie it’s been sticking with me on its general theme of what makes us human. It’s definitely worth a watch.

ScoopPC11 on February 10, 2013 at 2:43 PM

Lost me at the ‘eating the brain of’.

Limerick on February 10, 2013 at 9:42 AM

Lighten up Francis.

The Notorious G.O.P on February 10, 2013 at 2:54 PM

I thought it was going to be about people who get infected with brain-destroying liberalism, starting out as droning, shuffling Democrats, eventually morphing into comotose, automaton Alinskyites. Plus, Conservatives barricading themselves to avoid contamination.

KS Rex on February 10, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Sorry. That’s the actual future.

kim roy on February 10, 2013 at 3:34 PM

Winning friends and influencing people, Happy Warrior-style.

steebo77 on February 10, 2013 at 11:36 AM

The delivery could use some polish, but they are 100% correct.

kim roy on February 10, 2013 at 3:40 PM

So is this new genre a ZomRomCom or a RomZomCom?

IdrilofGondolin on February 10, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Everyone should read “World War Z.”

Great book. Zombie stuff, but really well written.

blatantblue on February 10, 2013 at 10:15 AM

I disagree. I came into the book expecting more. It was poorly written and used as an excuse that it was just a book of interviews about the different periods before, during and after the war. Not recommended.

njrob on February 10, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Not hardly. My suspension of disbelief can accommodate zombies, Max Brooks’ leftwing fantasies not so much. According to Brooks everything with Israel would fine if those darned fundamentalist Jews weren’t lousing everything up. You want an excellent series of zombie books start with Day by Day Armageddon J.L. Bourne.

sandbagger on February 10, 2013 at 1:27 PM

I had a difficult time stomaching those parts. Between the fundamentalist Jews being evil and Cuba being the world’s savior, it got to be too much. But not surprising from media these days.

njrob on February 10, 2013 at 5:36 PM

I just seen this movie on a whim. I’m glad I did though. I was feeling like a zombie when I went in, then I felt more human after leaving. That is the point of a good movie or a book.

It is a clever film and there is something for everyone. Watch it.

Gatekeeper on February 10, 2013 at 5:57 PM

We loved it…very well-done, and the ending was very nice, happy, not doom-and-gloom (enough of that in the real world)…of course, everyone can choose to spend (or not spend) their dollars as they wish…I don’t see a lot of movies, but I’m not going to shelter myself from everything because Hollywood is dominated by crackpots…life would be too boring imo.

ellifint on February 10, 2013 at 6:35 PM

The wife and I happened to see this movie last night, and we loved it. Having seen a trailer for it when we saw “The Hobbit” a month or so ago, we sort of knew what to expect, but it exceeded expectations. I was thinking zombie romcom, but it was way more than that.

flipflop on February 10, 2013 at 9:46 AM

Husband and I caught it last night, too, and felt the same way. Very entertaining with an uplifting message.

jix on February 10, 2013 at 6:53 PM

My daughter pointed out the Romeo & Juliet reference early on in the plane when Julie was trying to guess his name…being 15, she squealed in a nearly packed theater (loudly enough to embarrass her father), “Oh it’s so cute he just has to be named Romeo! Her clan even fought his clan!”. So, when the window scene occurred, more squealing…/sigh

At least she’s smart enough to actually know the reference.

Geministorm on February 12, 2013 at 9:39 AM

BTW, enjoyed the film. I was expecting a simple zombie-romcom, but couldn’t see where they could possibly go with it for more than 15 minutes (give or take), so I’d say I was pleasantly surprised by the story that quickly went beyond the whole, “act dead” thing and completely bypassed the potential gross-out factor of a decomposing corpse kissing a living girl.

Geministorm on February 12, 2013 at 9:44 AM