In the current wave of horror television, we have an abundance of different cornerstones. For serial killing, Hannibal and Bates Motel tend to be the go to series. For ridiculousness, unpredictability and down right guilty fun, American Horror Story has been reigning. For fantasy horror, True Blood was filling a certain void until it stretched to thin these last two seasons. Then, of course, we have our resident zombie series in the unbelievably popular The Walking Dead. With the exception of American Horror Story, all of these shows have roots in either novels or comic books. Each provides its own positives and negatives. Most importantly, they all represent a pleasant trend in edgier, horror-based television.
With my recent disappointment in the first season of Penny Dreadful, I was eager to find something new to watch and review. The Strain just happened to be premiering a week or two after Penny Dreadful‘s end. It is based off a novel written by the great fantasy director Guillermo Del Toro and author Chuck Hogan, whose book Prince of Thieves was adapted into The Town (2010). The pair worked together to write a trilogy of novels, The Strain (2009), The Fall (2010), and The Night Eternal (2011). In 2011, the first book was adapted into a comic series of 11 issues, which I spent the last couple days reading. If you are unfamiliar, the novel centers on a vampire-virus outbreak.
“Night Zero” focuses on a plane that mysteriously “goes dark” on the runway of JFK airport. A pair of CDC agents are called in, the broken family man, Epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), and his high potential love interest and colleague Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro). The two are the first to enter the plane after a seriously killer opening sequence involving flight attendants and passengers. One of the first things I notice was, like with all of Del Toro’s work, the color design and placement is all remarkably eye catching. Cold blues accentuate the dark foreboding nature of the plain. The blurred colors on the run way show off a great confusion, and the red in any seen normally reminds me of blood.
Unbeknownst to our CDC agents. A much more sinister plot is going on. Our third main hero, a seemingly old badass named Professor Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), gives us something of an ambiguous lecture about the return of “him”. Apparently, Setrakian has encountered this plague before, and he knows this time he has to hunt down whatever “He” is and kill it for good. We also have some conspiracy type work at play involving an old man wishing to be immortal named Eldritch Palmer. His story is a bit ambiguous in the pilot so I won’t delve deeply into it, but it will be explained in future episodes.
This is the basic premise of The Strain. It is a show that takes a hodgepodge of familiar themes and devices, but spins them together into an intriguing wheel of fortune. On the plus side, the show has a certain pulp feel to it. It never tries to take itself overly serious as evidenced by the performances not being overly indulgent. Each actor is placed neatly into his or her role and no one seems to be trying to upstage one another like in certain other horror shows I won’t name. I’ll admit that, while some of the dialogue can be overly hokey, the general tone of the show is one based around tension, fun and a little bit of mystery.
I’ve heard that some are calling it a totally cliché ridden show and too a certain extent the lack of overall originality is mildly disheartening. At the same time with vampires being done so much lately, it is interesting to see a sort of viral outbreak, almost zombie type twist to things. In a way it brings to mind a combination of the movies Contagion, Van Helsing and I am Legend. None of these are particularly great films, but each has a serviceable highlight or two. The fact that the pilot is hinting towards a major meltdown of the current world state is on point as far as I’m concerned. Knowing where the season goes, I’ll be interested to see what they plan to include, change or keep verbatim.
My biggest worry about the show is that it might end up going The Walking Dead route, where it will either start to become joyless, or that it will try to stretch its plot from the comics too thin. If the show can maintain its sense of timing, surprise, and brutally killer effects. I think we may have our newest guilty pleasure show on hand. This isn’t high brow entertainment, but it isn’t exactly trying to be anything more than it is. I think that’s admirable, and I’m looking forward to watching and reviewing this season for you guys!