The Designer’s Drugs: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – The Strain

The Strain

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan – The Strain

Anno: 2009

The director behind acclaimed films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy has thrown his hat into the ring of literature. Considering the magnificent visuals and dank atmospheres which permeate his movies, the idea of Guillermo del Toro writing anything at all naturally brings with it high anticipation, but a trilogy of vampire novels seals the deal. The Strain plays the opening notes of this opera, ultimately bringing back the old school monster vampire front and center, sweeping away all the teenage romance that has clogged the genre’s arteries, and then evolving the beast.

The most important word in the previous sentence, however, is ultimately. Despite the promise which this book holds, its opening is very poorly written. This has nothing to do with the story itself, which even in its early stages sweats suspense. The opening act’s glaring fault is in its tendency to overexplain everything, to turn every medical piece of trivia into a lecture. Acronyms are quite glaring, written longform first with the abbreviated form following in parentheses. Having “severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)” or “personal alert safety system (PASS)” in a sentence really busts it up. Yet an even worse offence comes in the description of the solar eclipse which serves as a plot point. The authors spend an entire page describing how its proper term is “occultation,” being that the earth is the object in eclipse. Fair enough, but what becomes ludicrous is that every single person from then on refers to the solar eclipse as an occultation. The authors’ overbearing hits its breaking point here.

Things do catch up, though, and soon The Strain hits a stride on par with the godfather of the leech stories, I Am Legend. Beginning the tale with a landed plane that mysteriously goes dark with everyone inside, The Strain’s authors let the anticipation boil before sending their monsters into the wilds of New York. As the danger grows, a pair of scientists from the Center for Disease Control team up with a ratcatcher and a gnarled old Van Helsing-type to fight back. Like I Am Legend, this story approaches its horrors with eyes of science, incorporating the old superstitions into rational theories – which takes nothing away from these creatures’ ability to terrify.

If the rest of this series is written like the end of its first book, Guillermo del Toro could steer this story into something amazing. It should be taken for granted that he would turn this story into an amazing film.

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