Tuesday, July 15, 2014

PILOT REVIEW: The Strain (2014)


Like a bat out of hell, The Strain  has been ripped from the pages of the novel written by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro and has been thrust into our living rooms broadcast on the very channel that has given us American Horror Story. So, is it on par with the likes of AHS? Yes...and so much more!

Let me get this out of the way right now...I love this new show.

As mentioned, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan wrote a 3-book novel for The Strain  after originally shopping around the concept almost a decade ago as a possible television show. Negotiations eventually went dry after the only network interested (FOX) wanted del Toro to turn it into a comedy. So, he basically told them to go to hell and joined forces with Hogan to sit down and write a great new spin on a vampire story. I was able to pick up the trilogy at a local used book store for about the price of a Venti Frappuccino, which was a goddamn steal. Especially given the quality of the books. Such a great premise, weaving a fantastical new mythos to the old story that we've seen done to death. It was an amazing alternative to the tween vampire stuff that was taking horror fans by hostage at the time. The books were eventually adapted into an awesome comic book series by Dark Horse that boasted some sick artwork by Mike Huddleston. But, the best was yet to come.


As del Toro continued to climb up the ladder of Hollywood establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with, a fact that we genre-loving fans pretty much already knew about, he started getting bigger and more expensive projects to work on and Hollywood began trusting him with huge properties. We've always known the man to be quite prolific with his ideas, constantly having several projects gestating while working on something new. So, it was only a matter of time when he turned his attention back onto The Strain.

So, here we are. Finally, FX has entrusted Guillermo with bringing his fully-fleshed out story to the small screen...and boy does he ever. Perhaps the best possible thing The Strain  has going for it is the fact that it is, indeed, fully-fleshed out and adapted from its original format. It's probably for the best that FOX shot down del Toro's concept in the very beginning, thus giving him a perfect opportunity to work out all the bugs and write three novels with Chuck Hogan. Making it a complete vision. Being a fan of the books, I was certainly interested to see this vision fully realized.

The story begins in an airplane. Something has taken over a flight arriving into JFK airport from Berlin. An air traffic controller notices that the aircraft is stalled out on the tarmac with no power or anything. The only thing that they really notice, aside from the dark plane being cold to the touch is that there's one window with the shade up. So, they bring in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (played by Corey Stoll who, curiously, wears a distracting hair-piece throughout the entire show) and his team from the CDC to go into the plane and investigate what could have possibly happened. A biological terrorist attack? An outbreak of bad airline food? "Eph" is on the case. Meanwhile, back in Harlem, we are introduced to Abraham Setrakian (a badass David Bradley from Game of Thrones  and some movie called Harry Potter and the Something, Something), who apparently is all too familiar with this new threat of evil that seems to have landed at JFK.


The show really does great work of unspooling the story that the novels laid out so well. I was fearful that the episodic format would kind of wring out all the tension and wonder that the books handled so well...but, with del Toro at the helm (and as executive producer and screenplay writer...and gaffer and third shemp and etc.)...it was an issue that quickly dissolved. In fact, the entire show feels more akin to a big-budget thriller. It's in the same family as Blade II  and Pan's Labyrinth, for obvious reasons. Guillermo definitely bleeds his talents all throughout the pilot episode and, hopefully, for many more episodes to come. Jesus...I can't even fathom that this man has churned out a HUGE Hollywood mega-budgeted film last year (Pacific Rim), squeezing in a small black and white film somewhere before cranking out the sequel to said HUGE Hollywood film and is in the works to getting The Haunted Mansion  made, while having Crimson Peak  in post...all while directing/producing/catering The Strain! When the hell does this guy find time for Flappy Bird??

Anyway, the episode really starts ramping up when the owner of a certain coffin shows up and pulverizes a man's head into the ground. Not to mention the little wormy thingy's and the dead passengers all coming back for some nom noms. It's all a glorious setup for the fun to begin...and for those that have read the books...boy, is there so much fun in store. I won't spoil any of the bigger plot details for the sake of our fine readers tuning in to watch the show for themselves, but I will mention that the story is such a del Toro-esque spin on the basic vampire premise. You have your Van Helsing's and your Harker's and your Dracula's in play...all with the backdrop of an imminent viral strain bringing the urban landscape to its knees...as told by a master storyteller. If you were a fan of Blade II  and Cronos...this pilot will not disappoint.


The cast is really great, too, with some familiar faces here and there. Sean Astin is onboard as Eph's assistant, Jim Kent...who has something up his sleeve. Mia Maestro is Eph's right-hand girl, Dr. Nora Martinez...whom I would follow into a vampiric worm-infested airplane any day of the week. The show is teeming with a who's who of familiar character actors recognizable from other roles and there's not one slouch to be found. Del Toro has always had a knack for bringing out the best in his performers.

And, Jesus Christ, The Strain  certainly delivers the gory goods! And not just in-your-face splatter, either. It's the kind of gore that crawls itself under your skin and has you thinking about it afterwards. Parasitic organisms have long been a horror-kryptonite of mine and this show has that stuff in spades. Little vampire wormies digging themselves into human flesh, heart wormies, wormies that find their way into dark crevices. It's enough to make you wanna scrub yourself clean afterwards. Much like FX's American Horror Story, The Strain  pulls no punches in the gross-out department...so, I'm eager to see what more glorious gore Guillermo has in store for us.

In the end, I don't have one bad thing to say about The Strain. Maybe if I had to really dig down and think about it I would scratch off a point for the idiotic studio executive who made Stoll wear that silly hair-piece. But, I can't really fault the show for that little groan-inducing detail. The characters are fully realized from the pages of the novels, and the pacing is a controlled tension-filled race to explore what new evil is emerging from this new world. As long as the show follows the books and del Toro remains in charge, you really can't go wrong here. Season Pass this bad boy. Seriously. While everyone's still mourning Alcide and too busy wondering if Lafayette is gonna fuck Jessica's man on the final season of True Blood...you'll be watching something with real substance. Do not miss Guillermo del Toro's and Chuck Hogan's...The Strain on FX Sundays at 10PM Eastern/ 9PM Central.



“Love is our grace. Love is our downfall.”

— Abraham Setrakian- The Strain 




Thanks for reading,

bryan.




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