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Warm Bodies Review: This Tainted Love You've Given

By TK | Film Reviews | February 1, 2013 | Comments ()


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There are some who say that the zombie genre has burnt itself out, with too many iterations, too much of the same, over and over again. Much like vampires, it feels like there is only so much Hollywood can do -- and so much that we, as viewers, can bear -- before the genre begins to (natch) eat itself and cease to maintain any kind of effectiveness. Once that happens, we're stuck with milquetoast variations, teeth-grindingly painful takes on the genre that inevitably will reduce it to getting the Twilight treatment. Zombies are no longer a part of the underground, no more the genre of midnight horror marathons where we winnow away our hours debating the worthiness of Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake, or the sad state of Romero's Dead series, or the merits of Fulci's works. They're mainstream as hell, with a TV show and everything, and there's pretty much no tale left to tell.

Enter Jonathan Levine's Warm Bodies. Based on the debut novel by Isaac Marion and directed by Levine (The Wackness, 50/50), Warm Bodies feels at first glance like the zombie version of Twilight, if such an abomination were possible. It stars Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class, "Skins") as, well, a zombie. After an unspecified holocaust reduces the majority of the world to ravenous, roaming undead, Hoult's character is the one somewhat self-aware zombie. Though he's still a shambling, groaning husk, there's a quiet, wistful voice in his head (represented by a charmingly self-effacing voiceover narration) that tells him that he used to be something more, that there is more out there than this dull, flesh-devouring grind of wandering through the airport in a listless hunger.

Enter Julie (Teresa Palmer), one of the remaining survivors living in a walled-off enclave/stronghold in the heart of the city. She and a team of others are sent on a mission to forage for supplies when they are overrun by a swarm of undead, one of which is Hoult's character. Despite killing and devouring the brain of her boyfriend, he still makes the curious split-second decision to not only spare her, but to save her as well. From there, the film wanders through a strange, burgeoning relationship between Julie and her lurching savior as she slowly warms (heh) to him, while he also slowly begins to feel less, well, dead.

That's the central conceit of the film, in essence -- that the undead can possibly be rendered back to life through warmth and affection and yes, possibly even love. It's an odd new take on the genre, and for the most part Warm Bodies works, delightfully so. The main source of joy in the film comes from Hoult, dubbed simply "R" by Julie. Hoult gives a performance that is at once charming and subdued, clever without feeling glib, and gives the viewer the curiously genuine interest in rooting for the undead. His performance is a tricky one -- a dryly humorous voice over provides the majority of his more overt character development, as he narrates his fascination with the living, and Julie specifically. Meanwhile, his physical performance is equally intriguing. As R evolves, if that's the right word, his physicality is slowly changed as well. While he's clearly separated from the other zombies by a notable alertness and liveliness in his eyes, he's still a grayed-out, stumbling mess, covered in wounds and lacking basic coordination. As he begins to re-learn his lost humanity, he gradually begins to regain some of the more basic functions, moving towards increased physical, mental, and emotional complexity. Hoult manages to convey a sweet, warm performance that's equal parts charming befuddlement and terrible frustration, peppered with a wan loneliness and fear of returning to what he was -- because what he was was never a life worth living.

This element of change and transition is echoed by the film's simple-yet-lovely cinematography -- the film's color palate is an intense, shifting visual array that emphasizes the dull tones of undead life contrasted with some startlingly bright scenery, providing a nice little metaphorical juxtaposition that avoids being too overt. The film itself seems to slowly brighten alongside R's journey, a sensible notion given that it's told through his perspective.

Palmer, as the plucky, sharp-witted Julie, does a decent enough job. Teresa Palmer is a bit of an odd woman out in Hollywood, a generically pretty actress with startling, deep-set eyes that enable her to demonstrate an equally startling range of emotion. Yet she rarely gets parts of much worth, despite some demonstrable ability. She's quite good here, though doesn't quite match Hoult's intensity. Refreshingly, Marion's novel and Levine's screenplay gives the character some depth and intelligence, steering widely away from the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and instead providing a character who's stronger than one would expect. And yes, she is eventually saved by R, but it's a necessary plot device to introduce us to his strange, sad little world, and it's a favor she returns in kind. Truth be told, it's R's movie anyway -- the zombie apocalypse survivors have been done a thousand times over at this point, but Palmer still gives a solid performance as a survivor who slowly adapts to the possibility that there may actually be cause for hope amid the carnage.

There's a smattering of subplot surrounding this oddball, mostly chaste romance. Julie also must clash with her father (John Malkovich), the militant hardcase leader of the survivors and the overbearing Capulet of the picture. It's a relationship that unfortunately bumbles its way into conventional tropes, particularly towards the end when he begins to make obstinately stupid decisions based on his own prejudices in an attempt to reinforce the already-obvious Romeo And Juliet theme. It's ham-fisted, manufactured drama, and while the resulting action is intense and quite enjoyable, the road taken to get there smacks of a slightly frustrating laziness. There's also the question of the Bonies, skeletal wraiths who are the final stage of zombification, quick and terrible ravenous creatures that stalk living and undead alike. The supporting cast is small, but solid, including Analeigh Tipton as Nora, Julie's chirpy confidant, and Rob Corddry as a mostly mute zombie friend of R's who becomes drawn to the same possibility reawakening. Corddry is wonderful in just about everything, and here he manages to be both sincere and hilarious despite speaking perhaps a couple dozen words at most.

The film begins to fold in on itself towards the end, lobbing metaphors at you like grenades in wholly unnecessary fashion. It's plain to see that it's a film about change and love and all those adorable things, and it manages to mostly deliver that message with a goofy, self-aware sweetness that makes it easy to see that this came from the man who gave us the wonderful 50/50. But while that film allowed its thematic elements to unfold organically, Warm Bodies occasionally takes a blunt force approach that is at times aggravatingly on-the-nose. Yet that shouldn't be cause to avoid the film, because overall it's an absorbing bit of romantic candy that still manages to avoid being too precious or treacly. That's due to some mostly solid writing (although from my understanding it veers away from the novel in many ways) and wonderful directing, and a pair of strong performances from the leads who seem to fall easily into their very peculiar roles. In the end, Warm Bodies is a mildly flawed film, but there's enough charm and excitement and yes, even a healthy dose of action and gore thrown in for good measure to make a genuinely unique vision, proving that yes, there is indeed love after the zombie apocalypse.







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • I really was skeptical when I heard about this - and I thought there was definitely no way it could be anywhere close to as good as Shaun of the Dead, but it totally exceeded my expectations. Like Shaun of the Dead it was a dark zombie romcom, but it definitely had it's own distinct tone, and had great acting all around.

    One area where it even exceeded Shaun of the Dead was in music - one of my favorite examples was when they used M83's "Midnight City" during the great scene where R is “made up” to look like a human.

  • Marsha

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been excited about Warm Bodies for a while now so I’m glad to hear it’s decent. I don’t really have time to go see movies in the theater anymore though because my job at DISH keeps me pretty busy. I’m planning to add it to my Blockbuster @Home queue through my DISH account instead. I used to always forget to look up when movies come out on DVD, but now I don’t have to worry about it because when it’s out it’ll just show up in my mailbox. I’m already looking forward to it!

  • llp

    I just saw this movie - it sounds weird, but it was mostly a cute movie. Nicholas Hoult, however, is enormously charming and charismatic. Corddry was also great, but Teresa Palmer was just a generic blond in a pretty indistinct role, I thought.

  • EngLushMajor

    The movie was better than the book in a lot of ways. That being said, I think it was lazy on your part, TK, to not read the book. It's like only reading the Sparknotes version of something and expecting to be just as enriched as if you had read the actual version for yourself. And then you wrote a review on it!

    Also, I read another comment that said that the movie bothered a viewer because of how they treated the whole R vs. the dead boyfriend plot. The book obviously went into more depth about how much the boyfriend had changed, but I think you have put yourself into the shoes of the characters too and think, this isn't just a disease that takes away family members and loved ones but it turns family members and loved ones into things that want to kill you. Life would be a lot more bleak, and people would be able to let go of people. And what are humans if not for their memories, so R eating the memories was a way for him to hold onto being human, as well as for Julie to hold on to the good memories of her boyfriend (because the person her boyfriend had turned into was not the person she fell in love with).

    The movie was fun, the actors were funny, and I think the movie added something sweet to the genre.

  • winged chorus

    Its a MOVIE review. TK watched the movie. Then he reviewed it. It does what it says on the tin.

    Your comparison falls down because movies are not in fact Sparknotes versions of books. They are artistic products in themselves and should be judged by themselves.

    Also, nowhere in the review can I find any expectation of enrichment. Rather, I suspect that the reviewer probably went into the movie with the expectation of seeing the movie, then reviewing it.

    Finally, this: "And then you wrote a review on it!". Why are you surprised that someone wrote a review about a movie they saw? We're at a movie review website!

    I'm totally fucking bemused.

  • EngLushMajor

    Also, this isn't just a movie review website... They've branched off a bit more than that with posting think pieces, and book reviews, etc. I think there is rhetoric in everything, even movies that one might think are just aiming to be "fun", even if the rhetoric isn't screamingly obvious. I think the writers on this website would agree too that they go to a movie for more than just entertainment value or at least on some level, hope that a movie will be more that just Michael Bay guns, explosions and babes.

  • God Of Bal-Sagoth

    I'm sorry, but none of your arguments make a damn bit of sense to me.

    They just showed so much excitement on this website for so long about the movie, that I guess I was just expecting that whoever did the review would be interested enough to pick up the book and read it.

    Why? How is that relevant? I think they were excited about it because it looked like a fun movie, not because they were superfans of the book. You're not reviewing the book. Adaptations should be able to stand (or fall) on their own, without there having to be a comparison to the book.

    Should a reviewer have read all of the Avengers comics? Watched all the Transformers cartoons? Played all of the Resident Evil games? Read every Jane Austen novel, or read all of the Harry Potter or Twilight books in order to judge the films? Probably 75% of movies are adaptations of books, and I don't recall it ever being necessary to read the source material.

    You wrote "Don't post a review of something you haven't experienced for yourself.. He didn't. He posted a review of a movie. That he watched.

    I think it's pretty silly to characterize the writers as "lazy" simply for failing to read the source material. And while we're at it - what were the reviews where the writers said they didn't see or read what they were reviewing? No, seriously. I'd very much like to know.

    I think the writers on this website would agree too that they go to a movie for more than just entertainment value or at least on some level, hope that a movie will be more that just Michael Bay guns, explosions and babes.

    What's your point?

  • EngLushMajor

    My comment was half-baked and a product of having the flu for the last week and being up past 3 in the morning, That being said, I have been reading this website for over 5 years, and I think they have gotten really lazy with reviews lately. There have been some recent posts where the writer admits to not having read or even seen whatever it is that they are doing a post about, so why am I supposed to take the advice, opinion, ideas, of that author if they can't even bother to do any research about a topic themselves. I like this blog, I respect it, but seriously, the work has been lazy lately. Don't post a review of something you haven't experienced for yourself.

    They just showed so much excitement on this website for so long about the movie, that I guess I was just expecting that whoever did the review would be interested enough to pick up the book and read it.

    I fear you guys are looking at me as that person in the back yelling, "I liked that band way before they were ever on the radio".

  • "There are some who say that the zombie genre has burnt itself out, with
    too many iterations, too much of the same, over and over again." And those people would be right. Enough with the fuckin' zombies already, especially if it's going to result in the above.

  • John G.

    I love the zombie genre and have all my life. I don't want them to go away, just because they go popular. But this shit can go fuck itself.

  • blorft

    I liked it a lot better when I accepted that this is a zombified teen romance film. I am totally cool with teen romance films, but they're sometimes lacking in complexity, and I feel like this movie needed some. Still, very cute.

  • Jelinas

    OOH, I'm so glad to hear it's watchable!! I really wanted to see this!!!

  • I want this film to do well just because I have all of the components for an R cosplay in my wardrobe already. I give good zombie.

  • Looking forward seeing this movie in cinemas)

  • Alex

    I hated this movie. HATED IT. It was all just so lazy.

  • Ting Ruan

    I agree, the script is bad, the action is aweful, I want my 2 hours back.

  • malechai

    Saw this preview in the theatre last week along with the Brad Pitt extravaganzaaaa planned for next summer. Both are zombie-ish. Both trailers made me want to see the movie, desperately. But I'm thrilled that this movie is actually out now, as opposed to NEXT SUMMER. Really, Trailer for Brad Pitt Zombie-esque movie? Next summer? Come on.

  • malechai

    Just went looking for listings. This isn't out until Feb 1. THE HELL, Pajiba!

  • jM

    Nice review, Teeks. Oh, how I wanted this to be really good. Sounds more like a Netflix watch, though.

  • mats19

    Great review..

    "It’s ham-fisted, manufactured drama, and while the resulting action is intense and quite enjoyable, the road taken to get there smacks of a slightly frustrating laziness."

    THIS though ruined the whole movie for me... they totally killed any suspended disbelief I had going. Specifically the ending was so ridiculous I wished I hadn't seen the last 5 minutes... it was like reading a decent book with a like-able character and then in the last chapter the author decided the ultimate way to finish it off was to kill everyone and not explain why. I feel like Warm Bodies failed to explain a lot of why's but the ending was the nail in the coffin.

    Either way if you can get passed the end I think it's a cute movie to watch but Shaun of the Dead will forever be my zombie love story.

  • REO Speeddragon

    Downtown Owl, I presume?

  • mats19

    Never read it but now I know to avoid it... THANKS!

  • MikeRoorda

    First: Full disclosure, I saw this movie for free with passes that TK gave me. I thought long and hard about not posting this because I didn't want to seem ungrateful for them. They were appreciated, and I did enjoy a night out with my wife.

    However, I was kind of bothered by the reasons why R initially decides to save Julie and then continues to keep her around. I won't spoil it, but something happens to the zombies when they eat someone else's brain, and it's that something that drives R's initial decision making. (Post boyfriend brain buffet.) Maybe I read too much into it, but it felt like he was being extraordinarily deceitful and manipulative in his actions (you know, beyond being dead and keeping her captive in his hideout largely against her will.) When he finally reveals his actions to Julie, what should have been a big fucking deal ends up getting brushed off fairly quickly. They set up that Julie had been growing unhappy before R munched on her boy toy's grey pudding, but it still was weird to me that she not only moves past it so quickly but also is essentially jumping into a relationship with the very zombie that brained him.

    That, plus the fact that Teresa Palmer looks an awful lot like a tarted up and blonde Kristen Stewart, and I just didn't have the same warm and fuzzies that TK did.

    It WAS a good movie and I also enjoyed a slickly shot and produced new take on an old story, but that central plot point stuck in my craw even after the lights came up.

  • BlackRabbit

    Wow, she really does look like K-Stew. Intentional casting?

  • Buck Forty

    One of the things that jumped out of TKs reviews was the question "how does someone fall in love with someone who ate your boyfriend and is holding you captive?"
    But then most of the great romantic movies have plot points that would have you locked up if you tried them in real life.

  • ExUSA

    I'mma let you finish, but My Boyfriend's Back is the best movie about zombie/human love ever!

    That said, this is a welcome addition to the subgenre.

  • emmelemm

    "I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is, they're dead!"

  • I see your My Boyfriend's Back and raise you the almost-pornographic Otto; or, Up With Dead People. Now that's some hot zombie/human lovin'.

  • jM

    "Is there anyone in my family you DON'T plan to eat?"

    *high five*

  • Emmet O'Cuana

    There's also an Irish film called Boy Eats Girl.....though it's notoriously bad. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt04...

  • lowercase_ryan

    Nice review. Corddry has quickly become one of my favorite comedic actors. He can make the smallest parts memorable.

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