From ‘Dawn of the Dead’ to ‘The Walking Dead,’ I have a love of Zombie Apocalypse tales so healthy, close friends know not to groan near me, lest I pick up the nearest crowbar and aim for the head. Up until a few months ago, I took comfort in the fact that a zombie love story could never cash into the now-ubiquitous “Paranormal Romance” section of bookstores the way vampires and werewolves have. I hadn’t heard of the book ‘Warm Bodies’ before seeing the trailer, but when I saw the premise, I had to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head, lest I appear undead myself.
I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.
The dark-comedic tone of Isaac Marion’s breakthrough novel ‘Warm Bodies’ sunk its teeth into my brain from page one, and the poetic, often cinematic imagery left me so eager to find out what happened, I brushed away friends and family with moans of my own, shuffling to bed late at night, hungry for just one more chapter.
The story unfolds from the point of view of a lonely zombie named R, sharing with readers the deep and frustrating thoughts he’s unable to put into words or actions — lucid of mind, but imprisoned in a lumbering zombie body. And occasionally hungering for sweet, sweet brains.
I was skeptical that I would feel sympathetic towards a character who kills innocent humans, as some of my closest friends are innocent humans, but Marion brilliantly sidesteps this morality issue. Adding depth to zombie lore, R explains eating a brain unlocks a playback of that person’s lifetime, allowing zombies to feel human once more.
During an attack on a group of survivors, R imbibes on a young man’s brain and is instantly granted access to visions of falling in love with a girl named Julie, a member of that same group. Stunned by her beauty and the guilt of ending the memories he just enjoyed, R has a change of black heart and decides to keep this girl safe from monsters like him.
Criticised by some for being a cheap allegory of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ — R, Julie, a zombie friend named M, possibly standing for Mercutio (I’ll never tell) — I actually thought the references were quite subtle and little more than a wink to readers. If every star-crossed-lover tale rips off ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ then every journey tale rips off ‘The Odyssey,’ and every ‘CSI: City’ rips off a different ‘CSI: City,’ and nothing is original, and this is why we can’t have nice things. I believe it’s possible to be inspired by a previous work of fiction and still have an interesting enough take be considered innovative entertainment.
But I digress.
You sometimes reach a point in a good book where you have ⅕ left, you don’t know what’s going to happen, and all you can do is say to yourself, “It’s so good right now. I hope they don’t mess the ending up.” When I closed ‘Warm Bodies,’ I sat back with a satisfying sigh… and then jolted back up and said to myself, “This book was so good right now. I hope they don’t mess the movie up.”
Jonathan Levine wrote and directed the film adaptation, bringing the same humor-and-pity cocktail that captivated audiences of ‘50/50,’ which he also directed. Levine brilliantly translated the stunning visuals from the page to the screen, expertly capturing the heart and inner conflict of a zombie who wants to protect more than kill. It also didn’t hurt to have the masterful acting of Nicholas Hoult, who played R with more depth than some vampires who have the ability to show facial emotions. Teresa Palmer terrifically brought Julie to life, a damsel very much not in distress, and the daughter of by-the-books government-leader Colonel Grigio, played by John Malkovich. Rob Corddry played “equal parts douchey and loyal” M so well, one might think he was the inspiration in Marion’s mind if it weren’t for the physical differences.
Sticklers will notice a few departures from the book, a missing character or two, and an updated film score from the Sinatra-heavy references in the book, despite the fact that indie rockers would probably be the first to go in the Zombie Apocalypse. A lot of the choices Levine made for the film were apt, and I could appreciate the reasoning, but I won’t go so far as to choose the “better” medium, since no amount of voice-over narration can replace Marion’s captivating prose.
If you see the movie first, you can still pick up the book and expect some surprises and insight into a hungry mind. Even if you’re simply a fan of zombies and comedy, you won’t be disappointed by ‘Warm Bodies.’ It’s a new genre I like to call ZomRomCom, and this breakout narrative made a book I couldn’t get enough of and a movie that left me grinning. And sometimes wincing.
And if ‘Warm Bodies’ leaves you wanting more, Isaac Marion’s prequel, ‘The New Hunger,’ was just released in ebook format on January 28th, and it’s available for download from ZolaBooks.com.
How well the movie portrayed the book:
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