When a plane lands at John F. Kennedy International Airport with its lights off and doors sealed, the CDC are called lead by Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro). During their investigation they find 206 dead people and four survivors but soon the survivors start to display strange behaviour and the bodies disappear from the morgue. As the team tries to get to the bottom of what’s going on, the entire city of New York comes under threat from an evil force that’s infecting the population.
The Strain is based on the trilogy of novels from film-maker Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Originally perceived as a TV show, Del Toro and Hogan were convinced to write a series of books instead when the TV networks passed on the project. Now off the back of the success of the books, The Strain has been turned into a TV series which airs on FX in the US and Watch here in the UK.
Essentially The Strain is another entry into the supernatural/vampire genre with Eph and Nora joining forces with mysterious old pawnshop owner Setrakian (David Bradley) to locate The Master, the one orchestrating the events that unfold over the course of the season. For the first few episodes the show is actually pretty spooky and is really good at building the atmosphere; something you would expect when Del Toro is involved.
For the most part The Strain is a tightly wound story that unwinds at a well-judged pace. The show doesn’t play all of its hands too early and it stores up plenty of surprises for the later episodes. There are quite a lot of characters to keep up with, and not all of them actually come together, which can be a bit distracting. We’re fairly certain though that this will be rectified in the upcoming second season.
The show isn’t without its flaws. The special effects are fairly ropey in places, which is disappointing. We know it’s a TV show and budgets are tight etc but the grand unveiling of The Master is a bit of an anti-climax. Similarly disappointing is the special effects used for the worms that jump out of the infected’s mouths to attack people. They just look too artificial to be believable and it really lets the show down.
Really taking charge of the show is Corey Stoll, who is best-known for Netflix show House of Cards. As Eph he makes a believable leading man and once you get over the shock of the wig he wears (if you’ve seen him in anything else you’ll know he’s bald) he becomes the character you root for the most. David Bradley clearly relishes the opportunity to play the mysterious Setrakian who seems to understand the infection and how to stop it. Also worthy of note is Kevin Durand who adds a bit of light humour to the show as Fet, a former rat exterminator who gets dragged into the middle of the panic. Keep your eyes peeled too for Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin who plays CDC administrator Jim Kent and is the right-hand man of Eph.
Extras on the boxset are three featurettes – In The Beginning, A Novel Approach and Setrakian’s Lair – that take you behind-the-scenes of the show.
The Strain is a hugely watchable show but not one that you’re likely to clear your schedules for every week. It’s addictive, if not a little predictable in places, but it’s a decent enough yarn that you won’t mind going along for the ride. The second season of the show needs to tighten things up a little and a bit of extra attention on the special effects wouldn’t go amiss. Other than that if you’ve got room for a silly but fun horror series in your life then The Strain is one you may want to add to your watch list.