If there is one idea that’s been used to describe The Strain up until now, it’s the misconception that it’s just ‘The Walking Dead with vampires instead of zombies.’ Yet to say this would be to do the upcoming FX show a massive disservice, as there’s a lot going for it that has nothing to do with The Walking Dead whatsoever.
Written by Guillermo Del Toro, The Strain, whilst technically a novel adaptation, is not really as such, given that the novels themselves only ever existed because Del Toro could not originally find funding for the TV show. So what we see will likely be the original intention, rather than a rehash of it as is often the case in adaptations from page to screen.
The show revolves around Canary Team, the fast response unit of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control, the US health institute), in New York, after a plane arrives at JFK airport, carrying hundreds of dead bodies, and a bizarre new disease strain. The team’s leader, the brilliantly named Dr. Ephraim ‘Eph’ Goodweather (Corey Stoll), heads up the response to this threat. Beyond this, all that’s known is that this signals the return of an ancient race of vampires, who, judging by the concept art, aren’t the pretty faces Twilight fans are used to.
So immediately there’s a wealth of narrative to explore: the original discovery of the disease, the impact of it, the first sightings of the vampires, right up to full-blown post-apocalyptic horror. Given the novels ran for three books, it can be assumed that there isn’t, as is often the case with apocalyptic premises, an end goal as simple as ‘saving the world’ or so forth, but instead this will explore the future under this new threat. On top of this, there is more character based drama to mix in, with the main cast numbering around 15, and covering a variety of different people, from the CDC team, to Eph’s family, and including many mysterious outsiders. The balance between narrative progression and characterisation will be interesting, but it seems safe to say that it will never run out of content.
The ensemble cast is also a promising sign. Corey Stoll from House of Cards is a strong actor, and behind him there are plenty of other notable stars. There’s David Bradley, the veteran actor known for the Harry Potter movies, and for being everyone’s second most hated character in Game of Thrones, as well as the reliably anti-heroic Kevin Durand. And somewhat ominously, a character by the name of ‘The Master’, seemingly an important vampire, is played by six-foot-ten Robert Maillet, who has previous worked with Del Toro on Pacific Rim.
Del Toro himself hinted at the style of the show in a recent interview, where he stated, “the way the camera work will be is very realistic. We want to keep the camera very documentary even if the look of the show is not. The look of the show is very designed. The style of the camera and the storytelling will be very loose. It will evolve from that feel of reality, and little by little we want to evolve into more stylish, horror feel that requires smoother camera moves, more suspense and atmosphere-driven moments so it will be a mixture”. Judging by the trailer, released online recently, this mixture is very apparent. The opening ‘plane scene’ plays upon this well, with stylishly lurid colours in the yellow glow of the scientists’ biohazard suits, and the strong blue that surrounds them, yet with the camera treating it as normality.
If there is one small comparison we can make to The Walking Dead, it’s that there is obviously going to be an almighty amount of gore, and that this won’t be something for the faint hearted. AMC’s hit show has set the bar high for how creatively and gruesomely they can depict death, but the last shot in The Strain’s trailer – where what looks like a disturbingly large, and spiked, tongue emerges from a hooded figure to engulf a victims face – suggests this will be stiff competition in that area. Moreover, no one knows how to craft beautiful horror visuals quite like Del Toro, so just watching what he comes up with will be intriguing on it’s own.
So really, there is a lot to look forward to, and hopefully the show will turn out as spectacular as it seems set up to be. The only downside so far has been the lack of a UK broadcast, but an announcement should surely be expected soon, if not before the US broadcast on July 13th, then soon after it, especially given FX have their sister channel, FX UK, with a precedent of transferring shows over here.
And apart from anything else, while we’re in an age of anti-hero television, fantasy and dystopia are the sole areas where things aren’t quite dark enough. With the aforementioned Twilight, The Hunger Games and other’s of it’s kind attempting to dilute what should be a harrowing experience, and shows such as Once Upon A Time also attempting to tame the genre, perhaps The Strain is exactly what is needed right now.
The Strain premieres July 13th on FX in the US, UK broadcast TBC.