Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Strain” has a long history of adaptation with first being a series of novels, being adapted into a comic series, and now into a television series. The voice of the incredible creator is present in every form, however, as evidenced by the huge scope of the narrative “The Strain” was always meant to be a television series.
The pilot “Night Zero” looks fantastic. It’s got the blue hues of 80’s horror movies, and the deep reds and bronzes of Del Toro’s previous work. It’s visually stunning and evokes an eerie tone right from the get-go. There is a ton of heavy lifting to do in terms of the plot, and while most of it is incredibly compelling the episode struggles in a few moments. Several false endings, and big moments that feel like the end of the episode cause the narrative to stall in the latter half of this longer episode.
“The Strain” begins with a commercial airliner landing at JFK without a single passenger left alive. This huge event causes literally every emergency team to arrive at the airport eager to get inside. Meanwhile Epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) is at a counseling session in an attempt to save his relationship with his estranged wife and son. He is consumed by work, and is introduced in all consuming fashion. Stoll kills it in the role. He is the right combination of levity and seriousness all at once. In his personal life he seems frantic, but professionally he’s in complete control.
As the situation with the airliner deepens we’re introduced to the wide assortment of supporting characters. Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) has a cliché introduction that evolves into something deliciously Del Toro. The set design of his pawn shop is filled with amusing trinkets and serves as a love letter to lore of Vampirism.
The pilot has it’s fair share of exceedingly creepy moments that cannot possibly be spoiled. It will get under your skin and refuse to leave. There are moments of pure gore, and others of creeping dread. Everything about this new type of vampire will leave you with a looming sense of terror that doesn’t easily wash off after the credits roll. With a particular scene in the morgue set to “Sweet Caroline” that will have you cringing the next time you hear “touching me, touching you.” It’s a brilliantly stage scene that shows the true horror that “The Strain” is capable of.
Fans of the books will be thrilled to see the fantastic characters of Eph and Abraham come to life with fantastic performances by Bradley and Stoll. Supporting players like Sean Astin’s Jim is nervous and adds a lot of comedy to tense moments, and Mia Maestro as Nora Martinez delivers a laughably wooden performance. Everyone else is pretty fantastic in the short time we spend with them here.
There are genuine moments of pure terror in this pilot, coupled with strong central performances, Ramin Djawadi’s unnerving score, and some fantastic bits of dialogue that make for a great introduction to this world. “The Strain’s” ticking clock is now set in motion. This pilot episode wasn’t afraid to move slowly to introduce the core elements that will come to a head over the next thirteen weeks, but rest assured the rest of the show moves with lightning quick pace.
What did you think of the pilot?