Thoughts & Essays

Revisiting ‘Warm Bodies.’ Again.

The movies that burrow into my brain and stick tend to be the ones that are accidentally falling prey to the laws of unintended consequences.

One good example is the zombie rom-com Warm Bodies. That movie did not think through the fucking implications of the world it built, and the horror of it has fermented in my brain for years.

I know the movie’s based on a book, maybe the book deals with the awful shit the movie implies, I don’t know. Haven’t read it. Probably should one of these days?

But anyway, in the movie, the undead, brain-eating zombies that destroyed the world are sentient. Some more than others. And no one knows because they’re non-verbal and the humans aren’t paying enough attention.

Worse, the zombies are cured by the power of love. Think about that a second. The human survivors have been murdering sentient entities left, right and center for fuck knows how long, and all of them could have been saved if you just loved them enough.

The heroine’s father shot his wife when she turned into a zombie, and then had to realize he could have saved her if he had just loved her enough. Can you imagine?

And like, the movie didn’t even touch on that shit. No one mentioned it. It was just… sitting there in the subtext and the movie just tra-la-la’d on past it like “Yep, that’s a thing, good luck with that.”

Also, the sentient zombies could get worse if they lost hope.

Jesus-fuck, man.

And I don’t even think the movie writers realized what they wrote, there. Like, I don’t think anyone involved with that movie realized what they did there. They were just like “Ha ha, funny rom-com.”

It’s been years since I saw that stupid-ass movie, and even now, every few months, that’ll just sort of bubble up to the top of my brain and I’ll have to be like, “Goddamn.”

Since it doesn’t seem to live on my blog anymore, here’s the review I wrote for Warm Bodies back in 2013 when I first saw it.

Warm Bodies: An Exercise in Fridge Horror (Originally Pubbed, 3/12/13)

On the surface, Warm Bodies is your basic Beauty and the Beast type story – through the love of a good woman, some guy is cured of being a monster. Pretty straight-forward stuff. It’s billed as a romantic comedy with a nifty Romero veneer for flavoring, but there’s nothing too surprising going on here.

If you’re paying any kind of attention whatsoever, though, this movie is horrifying.

The movie opens with R (Nicholas Hoult), our zombified protagonist, shuffling around an abandoned airport with all his zombie buddies (including Rob Corddry as M, having a ball in this bit part), explaining the zombie apocalypse and introducing the movie’s premise to us via voice-over.

In short order, Julie (Teresa Palmer), the entirely human and living female protagonist, turns up as part of a scavenging crew that includes her bestie (Analeigh Tipton) and a disposable boyfriend (Dave Franco). The disposables are gotten rid of (the bestie survives, largely because Analeigh Tipton is just too good to be gotten rid of in the first reel) in a zombie chow-down, and R “saves” Julie because he’s been bitten by the love bug. This sets off some kind of chain reaction that allows R to regain more and more humanity until, by the end of the film, he’s a real boy again. All the “good” zombies are human again, all the “bad” zombies are dead, humanity is saved, and it’s happy endings and smooching all around.

Except not really, if you put more than two seconds of thought into this film’s premise.

Take a look at these zombies, for starters. R provides the voice-over, and it’s important to note that he’s not narrating the film from the future, IE, looking back at events that have already occurred. He’s narrating in real time. These are his actual, zombified thoughts. As he introduces the movie, he reveals that these zombies are still capable of at least rudimentary verbal communication, and remember enough of their previous lives that they can give themselves names and shuffle around mimicking the things they used to do while alive. R also points out the “bad” zombies, or “bonies,” which are the way they are because they’ve “given up hope.”

Dude, these things are still sentient. These shambling corpses still possess a vestige of memory, enough intelligence to communicate, and are at least vaguely aware of the fact that their hunger is driving them to murder people they used to care about. R says during his intro walk-through, “They call these guys ‘bonies.’ They don’t bother us, much, but they’ll eat anything with a heartbeat. I mean, I will too, but at least I’m conflicted about it.”

Being a zombie in this world is horrifying. These poor SOBs have just enough left to them to recognize how awful they and their circumstances are (otherwise there wouldn’t be enough of them left mentally to “lose hope”), but not enough to stop themselves from nomming on their friends and family. And they’re staring a situation in the face where things can get worse – they could completely devolve into bonies, and they are apparently aware enough to recognize that fate as a bad thing.

That’s just the zombie side of the equation. Over on the human side, things are even worse. Julie’s dad, Grigio (John Malkovich, who must have needed a new water heater or something), is the savior of humanity, basically, having successfully walled off a portion of crumbling city for the last remaining human survivors of the zombie apocalypse. He’s presented as an embittered hardass who had to kill his wife after she came down with a bad case of zombie. That’s pretty much his main emotional motivation in any scene (what a total waste of John Malkovich), so it’s kind of a big deal.

Which, when you consider what kind of zombies we’re dealing with, here, presents some conundrums. R’s voice-overs seem to indicate that nothing has changed with the zombies recently, which would imply that the zombies have been verbal from the beginning. So just imagine Grigio blowing his wife away while she shuffles towards him, grinning a big corpsey grin and saying, over and over, “Good morning, sweetheart.”

Jesus. You can sort of see why there’s only a handful of humans left. The zombie genre presents it as being tough enough to waste your loved ones when they’re just walking appetites. Can you imagine if it seemed like they still recognized you and were talking to you about it?

It’s either that, or these survivors are so damn stupid that they just didn’t notice that the zombies could still talk and were showing vague signs of sentience – which is possible. In the zombie genre, humans often lose at least as many IQ points as their undead counterparts. (That’s really the only way to explain what happens every week on The Walking Dead.)

All that aside, by the end of the movie, R has become human again, and he gets the girl, and the bonies all die, and the humans tear the walls down, so I guess that means everything is awesome again. And shoot, Julie hardly even seems broken up about her father’s alcoholic suicide, which must surely have happened, because there is just no way in hell that Grigio doesn’t end up gargling bullets at the bottom of a liquor bottle after the revelation that if he’d just loved his wife a little more and played her some Guns N’ Roses on vinyl she’d have been fine.

In fact, considering that, I expect the suicide rate probably blew through the roof right after the survivors realized that if they’d just tied their zombified loved ones up in the closet for a few months they’d have been okay.

Well, not really okay, per se. After all, the zombies are apparently still zombies, just more human-like. Rob Corddry’s M has a throw-away joke line near the end of the movie about having “zombie fingers,” as he’s trying to do something that requires manual dexterity, which, plus the fact that right after R was completely “cured” he was shot in the chest, which hurt and caused him to bleed like a stuck pig, but didn’t kill him, would seem to imply that the zombies aren’t actually alive again. Come to think of it, R didn’t die later of the massive chest wound he took early on in the film, or the bullet wounds we saw midway through, either.

So, yeah. The zombies? Still zombies. Which makes you wonder if they’re still hungry, and if so, what they’re eating. And it makes me wonder, too, what’s going to happen when whatever government eventually scrapes itself together figures out that Zombie-Americans are capable of snarfling down an enemy’s brains and reading their mind, like we saw R doing at the start of the movie. 

Also, the movie’s ending presents everything as shiny and happy between the living and the dead, but come on, people. We can’t even get along when we’re different colors, for Christsake. I seriously doubt we can manage to get along with the dead. So you know those poor zombies are all second class citizens, likely being treated so badly that it’s just a matter of time before they go back to chowing down on the living.