With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a cool comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from various comic creators and other industry experts about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.
This Week’s Book: Awakening by Alex Eckman-Lawn and Nick Tapalansky
The Premise: Private detective Derrick Peters finds himself in the middle of a case that defies logic when a rash of strange murders rips through the otherwise quiet town of Park Falls. When the craziest woman in town cries “zombies,” it seems like the ramblings of a disturbed individual — but could she be closer to the truth than anyone cares to believe?
The Pitch: A blend of “Night of the Living Dead” and classic Richard Stark crime novels, Awakening is a zombie story told from the perspective of a private detective investigating a missing-person case, and it’s a moody, tense exploration of the genre that blends the best parts of a noir mystery with a gruesome horror story. Given how accustomed movie audiences have become to the nonstop gore-fests of modern zombie films, an adaptation of Awakening is likely to stand out from the crowd and benefit from offering such a fresh take on the genre.
To their credit, Eckman-Lawn and Tapalansky accomplish quite a lot within the limited confines of their mid-size city setting, and the narrower focus they take on the notion of a zombie outbreak makes the entire tale feel more personal — which only adds to the terror as the threat grows. This focused, more personal approach to the genre is similar to the way the recent film “Chronicle” approached the superhero genre, and a filmmaker looking to adapt Awakening would do well to take a few hints from that movie.
Still, beyond the normal makeup effects necessary for a zombie film, an adaptation of Awakening would require little in the way of digital eye candy to bring the graphic novel to the screen. What is necessary, though, is a director with a good grasp on the way light and shadows can shape the tone of a film. Awakening is very much a zombie story filtered through the lens of classic noir cinema, so the ability to handle the latter is more important than a knack for blood and guts.
Casting Suggestions: Both the main character of the story and the supporting cast leave quite a bit of room for talented actors to bring their own visual characteristics and details to the roles, which should make any studio happy. While the role of Derrick Peters should be filled by someone capable of handling the conventions of noir cinema, the character of Daniel Howe — a scientist sent to Park Falls by the government — requires a nice balance of slick attitude and confidence without letting the character become unlikeable. Cynthia Ford, the woman regarded as the “town crazy” by most of Park Falls’ inhabitants, could also make for a fun role that a talented actress could expand upon and turn into something far more memorable than what appears in the graphic novel.
Given his experience with noir-fueled projects, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an easy pick for Peters, but it would be nice to see that role — as well as the rest of the cast of characters — go to some up-and-coming actors looking to try something new. Awakening is such a unique story that it would benefit from an audience’s lack of expectations and a cast with room to build on their roles.