Reinventing an often-used story is a dicey thing. Depart from tradition, risk alienating hardcore fans. Retread a story that's been “done before”, risk the sharp tongues of critics who want “something new”. Sometimes, the best a writer can aim for is to tell a familiar story with fresh characters and circumstances, and tell it well. In “The Strain”, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan repackage the classic vampire tale for a new generation...and they do it well; masterfully so.
Dr. Ephraim Goodweather is suffering a parent's worst nightmare: custody battle for his only son. As head of a rapid-response team for the CDC, Ephraim balances a necessity for an on-call life with the necessity of quality time with his son Zack. To make matters worse, his ex-wife's new boyfriend is a dependable manager at the local Sears, dull but reliable. Ephraim has little chance of gaining full custody.
Everything changes when a Boeing 777 lands at JFK, rolling to a dead stop on the tarmac. All lights off, shades pulled...no signs of life are evident. Called to the scene, Ephraim is faced with a bizarre tragedy: over two hundred dead passengers, with no clues save razor thin, bloodless incisions on their necks and a huge cabinet full of dirt in the plane's cargo bay.
In Spanishtown, Holocaust survivor and pawnshop owner Abraham Setrakian senses the arrival of a familiar darkness. He's prepared most his adult life for this moment, amassing weapons and knowledge for mankind's final battle. It may be too late, however, as a slumbering darkness walks forth to consume everyone in its path.
“The Strain” doesn't offer radical new takes on vampirism. A “vampire virus” has also been done. These vampires bear more than a passing resemblance to those of “Blade II”, and the concept of elite, withdrawn Ancient Vampires is also not new. Both writers, however, know what's most important: characters readers care about, situations demanding empathy and emotional investment. In many ways, this first act reads like “The Stand” and “'Salem's Lot”, because the characters are so engaging and compelling. Sometimes in the rush for something “new” critics forget that if a story is told with deep pathos and a strong narrative voice, plenty of people will stop and listen.