“Hunger, a poet once said, is the most important thing we know, the first lesson we learn. But hunger can be easily quieted down, easily satiated. There is another force, a different type of hunger, an unquenchable thirst that cannot be extinguished. Its very existence is what defines us, what makes us human. That force is love.”
With that stirring voice-over from Game of Thrones’ David Bradley, we begin the pilot episode of Guillermo del Toro’s new horror-drama, The Strain, and it’s monstrously creepy from the outset.
The pilot episode opens with a plane preparing to land. As the passengers are told to turn off their devices and put their seats up, a flight attendant calls his colleague to the back of the plane, where he’s panicking after hearing noises coming from the cargo hold. They lift the hold door and can’t see anything but as soon as they shut the door, something starts banging against it. The flight attendants start shouting as bolts fly from the metal hatch, and something big and grisly looking bursts out of the hold. That, friends, is our first introduction to the monsters of this tale.
When the plane lands at JFK Airport, powered down, dark, and silent from the inside, a team of epidemiology specialists are called in to investigate. Doctor Ephraim Goodweather, Nora Martinez and Jim Kent make up our pally CDC team, who have to contend with theories of terrorism before they’re able to get into the plane and find a more scientific explanation.
Ephraim, or Eph as he likes to be called, and Nora suit up in their protective gear and go to inspect the damage. What they discover are 206 dead passengers – all of whom show no visible signs of infection or asphyxiation, and splashes of a strange substance that glows under UV light, combined with the smell of ammonia. Just as it’s looking like everyone is dead, four passengers wake up, scaring the bejeebers out of Eph and Nora, who rush the confused four into quarantine.
The extra long pilot episode – which clocks in at just over 100 minutes – follows Eph and his team as they try to identify the mysterious viral outbreak, which killed almost an entire plane full of people. Perhaps more concerning though, is what was being contained in the cargo hold, in an ancient coffin filled with soil and wiry worm-like parasites. If you’ve seen the promotional poster with the parasite crawling from an eye, you’ll know that there’s no good to be found with this discovery.
What started life as a failed script, before being turned into a vampire novel trilogy by del Toro and Chuck Hogan, has now finally found it’s way to script form once again…and you can’t help thinking that TV is the medium it always belonged to. Del Toro brings his cinematic flair to the small screen and it’s every bit as stylish and spine-chilling as you’d expect from the dark-fantasy director.
Aside from the disturbing storyline, which doesn’t so much as draw you in but yanks you with two claw-like hands, it’s the cast that make the pilot episode worth watching. House of Cards’ Corey Stoll is perfectly cast in the lead role. It’s hard not to warm to Stoll’s Ephraim Goodweather, despite the ridiculous name. Whether he’s playing the doting father, the husband fighting and failing to save his marriage, or the doctor trying to save the world, he has a magnetic on-screen presence that will no doubt fuel the series as it goes forward.
UK actor David Bradley (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones) plays Abraham Setrakian, a holocaust survivor and professor who owns a pawnshop in New York. There’s more to Abraham than meets the eye though, as the common thieves who try to rob him at the beginning can attest to. He looks like a harmless, ailing old man but he’s smart and skilled, and happens to be keeping what looks like a still-beating vampire heart in his basement. Abraham is clearly meant to be the Van Helsing of the series, the man who’s faced this particular brand of evil before and might be the key to vanquishing it once again.
What we see of the monster, whilst a little on a cheesy side, is adequately scary. Its penchant for crushing people’s heads is particularly alarming but at least it’s a real monster. There’ll be none of those teenage heartthrob vampires here – we hope.
Del Toro knows how to use music to intensify the eeriness in scenes, and when Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline acts as the soundtrack to the poor coroner getting eaten by the plane corpses – who incidentally all come back to life – it’s both creepy and comically absurd.
With the newly reawakened corpses returning to their homes and the world on the brink of vampire virus warfare, The Strain is likely to get even scarier in next week’s episode.