Book Review: The Passage (2010)

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I’ve firmly come to believe that, when the world ends, I won’t give a damn. I’ll mainly be bored. Between The Road, The Walking Dead, Book of Eli, and a whole host of others, I’ve got a sense of how the end of the world will go – be it zombie, vampire, or “the lights go out” variety. We wander around the barren world, everyone adopting a specific archetype, looking for canned food and surviving only if we understand true love or have that “will to live.” And in the end, monsters and power outages aren’t really the threat – people are. I fucking get it.

Justin Cronin’s 2010 hit novel, The Passage, falls squarely into this genre. Young Amy is Jesus Chr.. er, a mute, impoverished child who becomes ensnared in a military experiment that goes horribly wrong. Flash forward one hundred years (and two hundred pages), and Amy is the sole remaining link to the pre-vampire-apocalypse world. However, the story is less hers and more that of the Colony – a group of people who have survived in the vampire-ridden nation for the last hundred years by passing down human traditions in a restrictive compound. The inhabitants of the Colony go about their lives, trying to keep on the lights that keep out the vampires, but they struggle between their desire to simply keep alive and their dreams of striking out and learning more about what has become of the world. Not to give too much away, but keep pushing through, and the Lord-of-the-Rings style epic journey ensues.

And if all you’re looking for is the typical epic narrative – new worlds, a massive cast of characters, a variety of colorful scenes and settings – you’ll find it in The Passage. Unfortunately, not much of it resonates. Most of these characters and moments just ring too familiar – the special agent haunted by his shady job; the beta-male little brother who must learn his true strength; the fierce warrior princess (even if she’s not a princess here); the nerdy tech guy who must learn to thrive in the physical world; and, of course, the sacred young child who is the key to the future. They’re all here, and while many epic stories rely on such archetypes, there’s nothing specific enough about any of their personalities to make them stand out.  At the same time, as they travel from place to place, the people they meet and they environments they experience – the overly bureaucratic Colony, the desolated cityscapes, a creepy secluded society with a disturbing secret, a strict military compound – are all places you’ve been before. If you’re used to the apocalyptic narrative, you won’t find many surprises here.

That said, I’ll admit I’m in the minority. The Passage was a big hit with audiences and critics alike when it was released two summers ago. Development on a movie quickly kicked into gear, under the watch of director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In.) And there’s no denying that something should be said about the sheer amount of detail Cronin invests into this 800-page tome. The many, many action sequences also cook along at a solid pace. At the same time, though, it seems like every time you turn around, there’s a new apocalyptic or dystopian narrative grabbing everyone’s attention (check the adolescent lit shelves for this trend in particular.) I get that with growing worldwide tensions, we’re all worried about what the end of days is gonna look like, and I get that vampires are the hip metaphor for talking about things these days. But if you want to keep me invested for a thousand pages (and keep me coming back for the next two books in the trilogy), you need a lot more twists, personality, and new ideas than The Passage has going for it.

 

Rating: 2.75/5 ★★¾☆☆ 

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About Josh_C

Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).

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